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Ministers approved United Airlines rescue despite fears it would be blocked

United Airlines had been due to receive an additional £9m over three years to maintain the service

NORTHERN Ireland's only transatlantic flight is to stop in January after a £9m Stormont rescue package was blocked by European officials.

United Airlines is to press ahead with its plans to discontinue its Belfast to New York service.

The Northern Ireland executive had pledged to give £9m in public money to support daily flights between Belfast International Airport over the next three years.

It followed proposals earlier this year by United to stop the service.

The route already benefits from a subsidy of £2m a year after the executive scrapped Air Passenger Duty on long haul flights in 2011.

It is understood the additional money from Stormont has been blocked by European Commission officials under state aid rules.

A Belfast International Airport spokesman said the decision "defies logic and is an example of abysmal Brussels decision-making".

"You could hardly get a worse example of process-driven madness. To block a support package for an airline that delivers direct access to the United States is almost beyond comprehension," he said.

“This is a vital link for business and losing it will be a body blow to Executive Ministers who use it to promote Northern Ireland to would-be investors from the United States.

“The adverse impact is all the greater, coming as it does ahead of the crucial decision to make Northern Ireland more competitive with reduced Corporation Tax designed to stimulate inward investment."

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