Belfast to Istanbul flights in the pipeline as Turkish Airlines look to Belfast International Airport
Northern Ireland could soon have a direct air connection with Istanbul if "strenuous" efforts by Belfast International Airport pay off, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
Turkish Ambassador to the UK Unal Cevikoz visited Belfast International Airport – the location of the office of the first honorary Turkish consul to Northern Ireland.
Mr Cevikoz was also greeted by Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy and airport managing director John Doran, and met David Campbell, the new consul and a former chairman of the Ulster Unionist Party.
Yesterday a spokesman for the airport said: "We are very privileged at the airport to host the office of the honorary Turkish consul, which we hope will build on trade links and lead to a deeper understanding between Northern Ireland and Turkey.
"We hope it will lead to a direct air link between Northern Ireland – after successful negotiations with the local administration – and Istanbul, which is rapidly growing in importance as a major international airport."
No one from Turkish Airlines was available for comment. It's understood Belfast International is putting strenuous efforts into securing the air link.
Belfast International is keen to secure a service to a hub in Europe or Asia that would give access to destinations in the Far East and Australasia.
And one aviation expert said the outward-looking attitude of Turkish Airlines, which has driven the expansion of Istanbul's airport into a significant hub, could help its cause in Northern Ireland.
"Turkish Airlines has been expanding rapidly at its Istanbul hub in recent years and already has flights to regional airports in the UK such as Birmingham, Manchester and Edinburgh, as well as Dublin.
"The airline has ambitions to grow further as a global player, signing up the likes of Lionel Messi and basketball player Kobe Bryant to front television ad campaigns."
And securing Turkish Airlines would be a feather in the cap for Belfast International, which faces growing pressure from Dublin Airport.
The Turkish Ambassador to the UK is visiting Northern Ireland this week, where he has joined efforts by Belfast International Airport to secure an air link to Istanbul in Turkey.
Winning the route would be a serious coup for Belfast International Airport and would widen choice for business and leisure travellers from Belfast, who could travel on to a wide range of Middle East destinations from Istanbul.