The Stormont Executive is set to provide a £7 million bail-out package for the ailing City of Derry Airport.
The airport, which is owned by Derry and Strabane District Council, has lost £14 million since 2010, and is currently operating at a loss of £2.145 million a year.
It has 75 permanent staff and a further 33 on flexible contracts to support what had been around only 17 flights departing each week.
However, last week Ryanair announced it was cutting back on departures even further – impacting on connections with London, Portugal and Liverpool.
First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness have now confirmed that the Executive has agreed a multi-million funding “to assist development and growth” of the airport.
In a joint statement, Mrs Foster and Mr McGuinness announced that the Stormont Executive would provide up to £2.5 million in route development support, which it says will help transform the future of the airport.
A further £4.5 million capital investment in partnership with Derry and Strabane District Council aims to create high-value jobs and training opportunities.
The First Minister said the funding package “ensures the airport remains a key gateway to the north west for business and leisure travel”.
Mrs Foster added: “The Council also has plans for further development which would bring employment opportunities to the area and we want to act as a catalyst for it to succeed.
“Our package of support will ultimately allow the airport to plan for the future and remain a key part of the transport infrastructure for Northern Ireland.”
Mr McGuinness said he was confident the financial backing would “enable the airport to not only function, but flourish and serve all the people of the north west and further afield”.
The Deputy First Minister added: “With Ryanair’s withdrawal, having another airline in place is vital for our economic development and I am pleased discussions are at an advanced stage.”
However, the TUV has voiced concerns about the bail-out and highlighted that the viability of the airport has long been questioned.
A spokesman for the party said: “With the latest announcement from Ryanair the doubts about an airport which has seen a steady decline in passenger numbers will only grow.
“The details of this bail-out need to be closely examined. It will be particularly worth following what exactly has to take place to unlock the full £7 million pot. Taxpayers’ money cannot be used to indefinitely prop up the airport.”
Last week, when news first emerged that the Executive had agreed a multi-million-pound funding package, there was strong objection from John O’Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance.
“Taxpayers will be angry that so much of their money is going into a business proven not to be financially viable,” he told the News Letter.