Belfast International Airport has blasted as “abysmal” an EU ruling it says has ended the only scheduled trans-Atlantic flight from the Province to the USA.
Managing director, Graham Keddie described the decision by the EU to block to £9 million support package announced by the Executive this summer as “almost beyond comprehension.”
The airline has confirmed that the last flight will leave Belfast on Monday January 9, with the last flight in from Newark the day before.
The aid package to maintain the service was criticised at the time but Mr Keddie the move by the EU to block it was an example of “abysmal Brussels decision-making”.
“You could hardly get a worse example of process-driven madness. To block a support package for an airline that delivers direct access to the United States is almost beyond comprehension.
“This is a vital link for business and losing it will be a body blow to Executive Ministers who use it to promote Northern Ireland to would-be investors from the United States.”
The adverse impact was all the greater, he said, coming ahead of the “crucial” decision over reducing corporation tax in a move designed to stimulate inward investment.
“This is a bad day for the Executive and a bad day for Northern Ireland, which is still finding its feet after a generation lost to conflict. The United service was well supported and only recently carried its one millionth passenger,” he said.
“We have worked tirelessly to safeguard the service, but Brussels took a different view, believing the support package gave United an unfair advantage over services from elsewhere. “That, on its own, is bizarre as the package in no way competes or conflicts with competitors within the United Kingdom. “I would like to establish the level of representation made by any rival airline and competing airports before rushing to judgement. However, if there was interference, then our Government ought to make strenuous protest.
Mr Keddie praised the support of MPs Danny Kinahan and Ian Paisley, Economy Minister, Simon Hamilton and the Secretary of State James Brokenshire as well as Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling.
“Their efforts went above and beyond, but in the end the faceless eurocrats, and others ill-disposed to Northern Ireland, won the day,” Mr Keddie added.