George Best Belfast City Airport has begun 2015 with a UK and Irish coup over rivals as it has been confirmed that one of Europe’s largest airline groups, Air France KLM, is start operations from Northern Ireland.
The airport, already home to British Airways, Aer Lingus and Flybe, is the only one across the British Isles to be included in expansion plans announced by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines who will commence a daily service to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport from May.
The move offers Northern Ireland holidaymakers and business travellers greater access to global destinations through KLM’s extensive network.
“Attracting an airline such as KLM to Northern Ireland, is a major win for the airport, tourism within the region and local businesses who will benefit from KLM’s worldwide network,” said airport commercial and marketing director Katy Best.
“With imports of goods from the Netherlands increasing in recent years and the country being one of the largest export markets in the EU for Northern Ireland manufacturers, this route ensures daily connectivity with major export and business markets identified by Invest Northern Ireland.”
As a “linchpin” of the KLM network, and one of the busiest European hubs serving more than 300 destinations, she said Schiphol offered quick and easy transfers for routes such as Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Singapore, Mexico, Moscow, Johannesburg and Bangkok.
“It is our aim to attract new airlines to Northern Ireland and to further develop our domestic and European route network through working with the government,” said Ms Best.
“KLM is the second big European airline to announce operations from Belfast City Airport in a matter of months after Vueling’s decision to commence a service to Barcelona from May 2015, and I am delighted that both airlines have chosen to include Belfast City in their UK expansion plans.”
Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said KLM was a welcome addition to the growing list of air carriers now serving the province. Northern Ireland.
“Air connectivity plays a crucial role in growing our economy and the access to a KLM service will provide global markets with help to ensure that Northern Ireland becomes even more accessible for those who wish to visit or do business here.
Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland, said “Today’s announcement by KLM is really good news for tourism, as we kick off our 2015 promotional drive. Not only will it help grow visitor numbers from the Netherlands, but this new flight will offer connectivity from other important tourism markets, including North America, Asia and the Middle East.
“As an island, the importance of convenient, direct, non-stop flights cannot be overstated – they are absolutely critical to achieving growth in inbound tourism.”
Professor Neil Gibson of the Ulster University Economic Policy Centre said the news was “extremely encouraging” for the economy.
“Apart from the obvious benefits resulting from the link to a major business location it opens up connectivity to destinations much further afield.
“With the clear need for a small regional economy to generate increased exports the ability to market Northern Ireland as being globally connected via Amsterdam and London will be very compelling.”