The head of Belfast International Airport is optimistic a new direct US air link can be secured after the province loses its only current link next week.
United Airlines will cease its daily flights from Belfast to Newark on Monday, but International managing director Graham Keddie said they are working hard with government and pursuing a “number of positive leads” to fill the gap left by United.
Passenger growth rates at Belfast International Airport increased by 17.2% last year, with 5.15 million passengers passing through.
December saw record growth of more than 33% and the airport has achieved monthly double-digit growth since July last year.
Mr Keddie, said 2016 was a huge success with further advances likely this year.
“Our passenger numbers in 2016 were excellent. This year, we expect to set a new record of somewhere in the region of 5.4 million, which will surpass the last best performance in 2007 by about 100,000.
“Even though we will shortly lose the United flight to the United States, we will not be deflected from our growth curve.
“Of course, our airlines are instrumental in delivering the welcome boost with increased capacity and frequency and exciting new routes to Germany, Italy and Poland.
“United leaves a gap that we are working hard with government to fill and we are pursuing a number of positive leads,” he added.
Mr Keddie warned that as a region, Northern Ireland has to have direct access to the US which will underpin the inward investment drive.
“We have the prospect of reduced corporation tax to look forward to next year but its impact could be blunted if we don’t have direct, point-to-point access for potential inward investors to Northern Ireland.
“Canada, too, is an important business and tourism market and we have no doubt that Northern Ireland could sustain a Canadian service. We did so in the past, and there are even stronger grounds for believing we could do the same again,” he said.
“There’s a lot happening at the airport. Businesses based at the site are expanding and in recruitment mode. More growth means more job opportunities and we see that situation continuing this year.”