The UK Government has signalled it could subsidise an air route between Londonderry and London.
The announcement follows Ryanair’s recent decision to axe its service from City of Derry Airport to London Stansted.
After the move, Derry City and Strabane District Council called for a Public Service Obligation (PSO) commitment from the Government to keep a route open.
It would be the first such PSO in Northern Ireland.
The Government has invited the council to put forward proposals to maintain a London service.
The announcement comes in the week the Northern Ireland Executive pledged £7 million to help support the troubled airport.
The Government said a Derry-London route is a significant link for local businesses and the tourism industry.
It said the council could undertake a tender process to appoint an airline to maintain the route, which is used by more than 125,000 people a year.
Minister for aviation Lord Ahmad said: “Our airports are vital in supporting local economies, providing connections in the UK and opening up new opportunities.
“That is why the UK Government has agreed in principle to support the air route between City of Derry Airport and London.
“In terms of process, it is important that Derry City and Strabane District Council take forward the tender process to secure this route.”
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire said it was “good news” for travellers in the north west of Northern Ireland and the wider regional economy.
“Having talked to local business leaders I know the air link with London plays a vital role,” he said.
“I am pleased the UK Government has been able to step in to help, as part of our commitment to build a Northern Ireland that works for everyone.”
The Government maintains regional airport links through the Regional Air Connectivity Fund, which can be used to protect services at risk of being lost.
Earlier in the day Ryanair chief Michael O’Leary warned he could not guarantee his company’s presence at the airport after summer 2017 but said it could be made to work if APD was scrapped as a first first step.