£4m for Northern Ireland air route development
Up to £4million is to be made available over the next three years to support the development of new Northern Ireland air routes, it has been announced.
Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister Jonathan Bell said funding will be provided through "enhanced co-operative marketing" and will be specifically for the development of un-served routes with a high potential for inbound tourism and business.
Speaking at Belfast International Airport Mr Bell said: "Air connectivity is an important driver for economic growth in Northern Ireland. In following through on my commitment to come forward with a package to support enhanced air connectivity, I am delighted to announce up to £4 million of additional support available over a three year period.
"Northern Ireland’s air passenger numbers are growing which is excellent news for the industry. From an economic development perspective I want to ensure we maximise the business opportunities through connectivity to strategic destinations and ensure we can attract visitors into Northern Ireland to experience our world class tourist offering.
"I believe Northern Ireland would benefit economically from greater connectivity to a range of un-served short haul destinations within Europe, as well as greater long haul connectivity to Canada and the Middle East.”
The minister added: “Officials in my department are working with Invest Northern Ireland and Tourism Ireland on the detailed process for airlines to make proposals for additional support and this will be confirmed to them in the near future.”
Belfast International Airport welcomed the announcement but said that removal of Air Passenger Duty is "fundamental" to growth.
Belfast International Airport Managing Director Graham Keddie, said: "While we welcome the introduction of this new initiative, the removal of UK Air Passenger Duty on flights departing from Northern Ireland remains the real and fundamental key to unlocking significant growth in direct air access.
"Only by providing tourists from mainland Europe with direct, sustainable access to Northern Ireland will we see any appreciable benefit in economic terms, through spend in our hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions.
"We look forward to reviewing the detail of the scheme and to working with DETI, Invest NI and our airlines to fully exploit this opportunity."
Brian Ambrose, Chief Executive of George Best Belfast City Airport said: "Belfast City Airport welcomes this announcement and we look forward to engaging with the Department as we continue to develop our European route network."
UUP MP Danny Kinahan said: "Increasing our connectivity will be a key part of our economic growth and in Northern Ireland the Executive needs to be stepping up to the plate and doing all they can to create the conditions where our airports can keep the good news coming.
"Today’s announcement can be a step in the right direction in making sure our airports aren’t losing out on passengers who are instead making the journey to fly from Dublin. I will continue to lobby for an enterprise zone at Belfast International Airport and proper road and rail links that our top airport should have.”