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Norwegian Air decision is deeply disappointing

The announcement that Norwegian Air is ending its direct flights between Northern Ireland and the United States is a deeply disappointing development and underlines the challenges facing transatlantic carriers flying out of Belfast.

Norwegian said the decision was taken due to passenger demand and the last flights on the New York and Boston routes would be on October 27.

It was only in February last year that the carrier was unveiled as a replacement for United Airlines, which had ended its daily Belfast-Newark service.

While Norwegian is a low-cost airline, the twice-weekly destinations on offer from Belfast - Stewart International Airport, about 70 miles from New York and TF Green Airport, 60 miles from Boston - were not exactly ideal.

There is also significant competition from Dublin Airport, which provides a frequent transatlantic service directly to New York and Boston.

Indeed, Norwegian said Northern Ireland passengers would be 'well-served' by its flights from Dublin, Shannon and Cork.

The airline's move is undoubtedly a serious blow to Belfast International Airport but the tone of its response to this news has caused considerable surprise.

The airport accused Norwegian of 'moronically channelling much greater levels of Northern Ireland passengers on to Dublin flights.'

It also criticised the company for its 'limited and inferior product.'

Belfast International is entitled to express dismay at this setback but such public criticism of a company is quite astonishing, particularly as the airport will be trying to persuade other airlines that Aldergrove is a good place to do business.

It is important for Belfast International to project a positive image and part of that is making sure customers have a good experience.

Unfortunately, there appears to be a persistent problem regarding the time spent getting through security with passengers reporting significant delays.

This obviously needs to be resolved but in wider economic terms there is a clear issue that must be addressed in relation to ensuring Northern Ireland has a direct air link to the US.

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