Belfast to US flights take off once again with £69 routes announced
Two new routes from Belfast International will allow holiday-makers to fly to the United States for as little as £69 - and airport chief executive Graham Keddie says he is hopeful discussions for a connection to a third US city will cross the line in the next few months.
Norwegian Air - Europe's third largest low-cost airline - came to the rescue of Northern Ireland's transatlantic connections just weeks after United Airlines scrapped its Belfast-Newark route. However, this time, US-bound travellers will have the choice of two American airports.
The routes will fly to TF Green Airport in Providence, Rhode Island, which is about 60 miles from Boston and Stewart International, which is in upstate New York and around 70 miles from Manhattan. They were supported by Tourism Ireland's marketing budget.
However, it's understood the amount involved in the deal is nowhere near the £9m paid to United to subsidise its Newark route and is thought to be a six-figure sum.
It comes the same day Norwegian also launched transatlantic flights from Dublin, Edinburgh and Shannon airports.
Norwegian will fly five days a week from Belfast.
However, it's expected the majority of passengers will be made up of Americans who are coming to visit Northern Ireland.
The flights are scheduled from July with capacity for almost 1,000 passengers a week.
Chief executive officer Bjorn Kjos stressed the importance for Northern Ireland to "build a brand" abroad and said that discussions with Tourism Ireland had been "very positive".
He added that the airline's low prices had been made possible by using the most fuel-efficient planes possible.
He said: "These flights will be very popular with Americans but they will fly from everywhere.
"The Americans in an area like Providence will go to places like Northern Ireland if they can get a low fare. It's very exciting to go to Northern Ireland but we offer single fares so they could fly to Belfast and get the train to Dublin or the ferry to Edinburgh and fly back from there."
Belfast International Airport chief executive Graham Keddie said he is still pushing for a deal with other airlines and is hopeful people in Belfast will be able to fly to a third US city within the next six months.
Economy Minister Simon Hamilton said he had worked closely with the airport and added that his department provided financial support for the deal.
He added that better connectivity with North America is "crucial" for inward investment, exports and tourism.
Martin Craigs, chairman of Aerospace Asia and Hillcrest Advisory, said Norwegian was a good fit for Northern Ireland.
"Around the globe direct accessible air services stimulate trade, tourism and perhaps most importantly empathy. Northern Ireland needs to get out more to tell its compelling story. More visitors returning home with tales of the region's native wit, wisdom and investment opportunity are a bonus," he said.
"Norwegian Air thinks creatively, they see preference for second city non-stop linkages at ultra-low fares with frills available at an add-on price - this is what millennial travellers want."