Stormont steps in with money to keep Belfast to New York flight
STORMONT has stepped in with millions of pounds of funding to help retain the only daily air connection between Belfast and the United States.
United Airlines had been considering withdrawing its service between the International Airport and Newark in New York, which operates all year round.
A rescue package, believed to be worth around £9 million, was thrashed out between representatives of the airline, Belfast International Airport, ministers and British government officials.
Most of the funding is coming from Stormont but it is understood the deal will not lead to any reduction in fares for passengers.
Sources told The Irish News that although the Belfast to New York route is profitable, United had been considering removing the flight in favour of destinations within the US which could offer bigger returns.
The route suffered a setback last year when United announced that it would not operate any flights over a two-month period between January and March 2015.
However, the flight will now remain in place for at least the next three years under the terms of the new deal.
Graham Keddie, managing director of Belfast International Airport, said it was an "outstanding achievement for Northern Ireland plc."
"This was teamwork at its best. We burned the midnight oil to get this deal across the line," he said.
"We were dogged, determined, insistent. Our local politicians, Executive, our secretary of state and his government colleagues rowed in behind the effort... it is essential that we have direct access to that market."
Economy minister Simon Hamilton also said it had been "a Northern Ireland team effort to get it back."
He told the BBC: "It is public money being spent to ensure we keep this very important route in place."
Ulster Unionist MP for South Antrim Danny Kinahan said: "This is an excellent example of what can be achieved when political differences can be put aside."
In 2013, a £13 air passenger duty charge was scrapped on all long-haul flights from the north, although the Newark service was the only route to benefit.