Northern Ireland’s only direct, scheduled daily air service to the United States will end on Monday as United Airlines grounds the flight because of its “poor financial performance”.
The service, operated by United Airlines from Belfast International Airport (BIA) to Newark since 2005, had according to the airport been well supported and carried more one million passengers.
The airline will operate its final flight from Belfast on Monday.
Management at BIA have blamed the European Commission for “killing off” the service after it launched an investigation into a multi-million pound financial support package, estimated to be worth more than £9 million, that had been agreed last summer by the North’s Executive to safeguard the route.
Under EU state rules public authorities are not allowed to grant a specific airline an “undue advantage”.
Local business and tourism chiefs have warned that the absence of a direct US service from Northern Ireland could put it at a disadvantage and leave tourists, businesses and potential investors with no other option on the island but to travel to Dublin airport to access US flight services.
BIA’s managing director, Graham Keddie is confident that 2017 will prove to be “a bumper year for us despite the decision by United to end its popular trans-Atlantic service”.
“We continue to do all with can to fill that gap. We are working closely with Government to deliver a major long-haul project that would open up attractive additional and badly-needed connections,” Mr Keddie said.
Latest figures from the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) shows BIA is the fifth busiest airport in the UK for domestic passenger traffic.
According to the CAA ‘league table’ of forty-seven UK airports the four airports ahead of Belfast International Airport are Heathrow, Gatwick, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Last year BIA grew by more than 17 per cent as more than 5.1 million passengers travelled through the facility.
According to Mr Keddie it is on target to achieve a new record of 5.4 million in 2017.
“We could do much more with the right supports. Air Passenger Duty is a considerable disadvantage not only to our airports, but to Northern Ireland as a region. If it disappeared, we could transform inbound tourism, leading to further significant investment along with the creation of thousands of jobs. Getting rid of this impediment is, in my view, a no-brainer,” he added.