Continental Airlines has denied a claim by an MP that the Irish government promised a huge tax break if it agreed to withdraw its Belfast to New York service.
North Antrim MP Ian Paisley jnr said he understands there have been proposals to substitute Northern Ireland's only transatlantic route with a Chicago flight out of Dublin.
But, speaking to the Belfast Telegraph last night, the US carrier refuted the allegations as having absolutely no substance.
Nick Britton, managing director of Continental's international and corporate communications, insisted there were no plans to end the service between Belfast International Airport and its New York/Newark hub.
He added: “While we will not speculate publicly about future route network expansion, we deny categorically that United Continental has been offered any financial incentives to end its Belfast-New York service.”
Mr Paisley’s comments came the day before Westminster’s internal affairs committee began an inquiry into Air Passenger Duty (APD) and its implications for Northern Ireland.
The MP said he was alarmed that Northern Ireland could be on the verge of losing the US air link because of increases in UK aviation taxes which load at least £60 per passenger onto the price of transatlantic flights.
“It is my understanding that Dublin has promised Continental that if they pull out of Belfast there will be a major tax break in line for them,” the DUP politician said.
“This is an issue I will be bringing up on the first day of our inquiry into the aviation tax,” he added.
Continental’s Belfast/New York route suffered a hike of £60 on the cost of an economy seat and an increase of £120 on business seats. The airline decided to absorb the tax in order to prevent travellers switching to Dublin, where it offers a similar service. Chancellor George Osborne has signalled he is minded to allow Stormont to set its own Air Passenger Duty (APD) rate.