Northern Ireland’s transatlantic air link is to be re-instated this summer following confirmation that Norwegian Air will begin services linking the province and the Irish Republic to the US East Coast.
After a lengthy period of rumour and negotiations in the wake of United Airlines’ departure from Belfast International in January, Norwegian Air anounced two routes linking Belfast to airports in the New York and Boston areas.
Services to London are also set to be restored at City Of Derry airport with the announcement that BMI is to fly to Stansted from May.
Norwegian will also introduce services from Dublin, Shannon and Cork promising fares from h69 or £69 to secondary airports in the New York and Boston areas.
Five weekly flights will leave Belfast while 19 will depart from the Republic.
“This is a great day for the airport, Northern Ireland, indeed, the entire northern half of the island of Ireland,” said BIA director Graham Keddie.
Economy Minister Simon Hamilton who last year approved an unltimately unsuccessful £9 million bid to keep United in Belfast, said: “When we lost the United service to Newark I was determined to deliver better connectivity to North America”.
Having worked closely with Belfast International, he said he was pleased that financial support from his departmenthad helped bring in the new airline.
“Having better connectivity between Northern Ireland and North America is crucial for inward investment, exports and tourism and I hope that this new relationship with Norwegian grows and we see more new air routes out of Belfast in the future,” he said
The US airports served are Stewart International, which is less than 90 minutes from New York City, and TF Green, which is 90 minutes from Boston.
The smaller airports carry significantly lower landing charges than traditional hubs such as JFK, which Norwegian said enabled it to offer more affordable fares.
Routes will be operated on new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft with a single economy class.
The airline said it was state-of-the-art and offered longer range and more seats.
“The cost of transatlantic travel has been too high for too long so, by connecting Irish cities with smaller US airports, we can offer some truly affordable fares, allowing as many people as possible to fly,” said Mr Kjos.
“We are delighted to announce our first ever flights from Belfast and to ensure the city maintains its crucial transatlantic links.”
Welcomng the news on behalf of business group the FSB, NI policy chair Wilfed Mitchell said the routes were vital to ensuring that local small businesses could compete effectively in the global market.
“The direct air links with the United States enables many visitors and investors to fly directly into Northern Ireland, and sends a positive signal that local businesses are well-positioned in the global market.”
Tourism Ireland chief executive Niall Gibbons said: “As an island, the importance of convenient, direct, non-stop flights cannot be overstated - they are absolutely critical to achieving growth in inbound tourism.”
The BMI move to restore Londonderry’s link to the capital will see a twice daily every day except Saturdays timed to compliment business schedules, making it easy for business travellers to do the round-trip in a day.
Jochen Schnadt, chief commercial officer of bmi regional said it was important for business that the region was well connected to the UK capital.
George Fleming, President of the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce said the airport was a central part of the offer to investors.
“Without a frequent and convenient flight between London and Derry, we would have greater difficulty in attracting inward investment.
“While we value local businesses, it is essential to attract investment and income from elsewhere if we are to expand our economy, generate wealth and create jobs.”