Belfast to Iceland route could lead to cheap US and Canadian flights
A new air link to Iceland will open up the cheapest flights from Northern Ireland to the United States and Canada, it's been claimed.
The first new Icelandair flights from Belfast to Reykjavik have taken off. Icelandair will fly three times a week from Belfast City Airport, with the air link being operated by subsidiary Air Iceland Connect.
The new year-round service will operate on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays.
But that frequency could grow and larger aircraft added to the route to up flight numbers, according to Arni Gunnarsson, the managing director of Air Iceland.
It's currently flying Bombardier's part-Belfast made Q400 planes.
EasyJet already operates a direct, seasonal flight to the Icelandic capital from Belfast International.
Mr Gunnarsson said the regular route will open up tourism in the country and will also allow Northern Ireland customers to connect directly with cities across the Atlantic, such as Montreal and Boston. And he says flights could start from as little as £200 each way.
"I think the split is going to be 60% of the traffic. That's our estimation," he said.
"I think the Canadian destinations would be popular because they are not well served from Ireland.
"You do have out of Iceland flights to Canada. There is Halifax, Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton and Vancouver.
"From east to west, there is a good spread of connections. Also, Seattle, Denver and Minneapolis. Destinations which are not directly served, those would be the destinations we would see as the biggest potential."
Asked about what impact Brexit will have on business, Mr Gunnarsson says he believes the 'open skies' agreement should be retained.
The agreement allows carriers to fly anywhere within the European Union.
In April, the boss of Jet2 warned that the loss of the agreement following Brexit would have a "terrible" impact on the airline industry.
"Our view is that the open skies agreement should stay in place... I don't foresee that it will have any changes in that," Mr Gunnarsson said.
"If you are connecting from Belfast, you don't have that many direct flights from Belfast to the US. As a one-stop connection, it's the easiest and the fastest. That is the big advantage that we have."
He said the airline could increase its frequency if there is sufficient demand here.
And Icelandair chief executive Birkir Holm Gudnason said: "Icelandair is proud to welcome Belfast on board as our latest UK gateway, working again in partnership with our sister airline Air Iceland Connect who will operate the service.
"This addition improves our connectivity and enables us to carry even more passengers to our 18 gateways across the US and Canada, via our hub in Reykjavik."
Brian Ambrose, chief executive of Belfast City Airport, said: "You have got an increase in inbound tourism and Reykjavik is a good weekend city break, so there is a good destination, and as far as value for money, for connectivity to North America it will be the best on the market."
Visit Belfast chief executive Gerry Lennon said: "The new service and extensive global network enables Visit Belfast and our tourism partners to proactively engage with potential visitors, from not only Iceland but other key markets including North America".