Belfast Telegraph

After Abu Dhabi, ministers have high hopes new air link with Toronto will take off

By Liam Clarke

Executive ministers are negotiating a second long-haul link to North America, this time to Toronto in Canada.

Air Transit and Air Canada are possible candidates to fly the route and a decision may come as early as July.

Currently our only long-haul flight is from the international airport to Newark, near New York, but yesterday the Belfast Telegraph reported that a link to Abu Dhabi was in prospect and had been discussed.

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster has now revealed that the Abu Dhabi route to the oil-rich United Arab Emirates is only one of the long-haul airline destinations she is hoping to secure for Belfast International Airport in the near future.

“I would like to see the re-introduction of a direct service to Canada and I am also keen to improve connectivity to markets such as India and China,” she said.

Belfast International Airport’s business development |director Uel Hoey said: “Canada is a key source market for Northern Ireland and we have been working for some time to restore a Belfast-Toronto service.”

He added: “We are talking to a number of airlines, but for reasons of commercial confidentiality, we are not in a position to mention them by name.

“Canada offers colossal tourism potential and, alongside the devolved administration, we are striving to make this important breakthrough.”

He pointed out that the route has been profitable before and that demand is established, with strong business, leisure and family links.

“In that context, it’s worth remembering that two thirds of the four and a half million Canadian citizens claiming Irish roots trace their ancestry back to Ulster,” he said.

The Belfast to Toronto transatlantic route was previously operated by Zoom Airways, a Scottish company which ceased trading in 2008, and Globespan, which went out of business in 2009. Before that it was operated by Air Canada.

A spokesman also said that the airport is “aware of and fully supports the comments of the Minister for Enterprise Trade and Investment and the chief executive of Invest NI” about a route to Abu Dhabi.

“A west-east link opens new tourism and business opportunities and we are delighted to see that what we’ve been campaigning on for some time has been embraced by government.

“The decision on Air Passenger Duty (APD) is opening doors for Northern Ireland.

“Collectively, we must ensure that the advantage it gives us is fully exploited for the local economy,” he added.

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Air passenger duty in the United Kingdom is currently the highest in the world, at £92 for flights over 6,000 miles. Northern Ireland rates have been reduced by the UK government to help us to compete with the Republic where the duty is not charged. The Stormont Executive is planning to eliminate the duty on long-haul flights from Northern Ireland when powers are devolve.

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