Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary pledged to bring one million visitors to Northern Ireland as he announced new routes to the province from Belfast International Airport.
Among the seven new services are so-called ‘golden’ destinations such as Berlin, Milan and Krakow described by business and tourism bodies as hugely important to economoic growth.
Mr O’Leary said he understood the need for more connections but called on the new Assembly for real action on financial support for the development of new routes and an end to air passenger duty (APD).
As the scheduled Ryanair service to Gatwick from Belfast begins at the end of the month, Mr O’Leary confirmed the airline will also fly to Malaga, Alicante, Tenerife and Lanzorote.
He also urged Northern Ireland to vote to stay in the EU asking in his usual forthright way: “Why the hell would you want to leave?”
“This large inward investment and new job creation is the latest example of how Northern Ireland benefits from the UK’s membership of the European Union,” he said. “Low-fare air travel, which was pioneered by Ryanair in the UK and Europe, is one of the EU’s great success stories.
“We are calling on everyone in Northern Ireland to vote ‘Yes’ to Europe in the Brexit referendum in June, because staying in Europe will mean stronger economic growth, more tourism and more jobs for young people, whereas leaving will reduce the UK to the same status as Norway - namely outside the EU, but part of the single market, but with no role in setting EU policy or strategy.”
Stressing that both Germany and Italy offered enormous potential, he said he could see no reason why Berlin and Milan shoud not become daily services in due course.
“German and Italian people like rain and green and we have lots of rain and green so we should be able to sustain these routes ad inifinitum.”
The flights will begin from the autumn and already more than 300 jobs have been advertised in aticipation of those and the Gatwick service. In all it is claimed more than 700 jobs could be created by the airline and in other service roles.
Stating that Dublin had148 UK and European destinations to offer he said there was no reason why Belfast should not be able to operate to “thirty to 40 destinations in the future.”
Mr O’Leary used the route Tourism Ireland chief executive Niall Gibbons said the announcement was excellent news for tourism to Northern Ireland as we roll out our 2016 promotional drive.
“We already work very closely with Ryanair and we look forward to co-operating with them to maximise the promotion of these new flights from Berlin and Milan to Belfast and to grow tourist numbers from Germany and Italy.
“As an island, the importance of convenient, direct, non-stop flights cannot be overstated - they are absolutely critical to achieving growth in inbound tourism.
“Tourism Ireland is committed to working with Ryanair, Belfast International Airport, as well as other tourism interests, to promote and help maintain vital routes and services to Northern Ireland.”