British Airways and UK Trade & Investment are to offer small and medium sized businesses in Northern Ireland free flights to help them win business abroad.
The 200 short-haul and long-haul flights are part of a £15m flight giveaway put together by British Airways to help SME’s across the UK promote and sell their products overseas.
The initiative in Northern Ireland will be delivered by Invest NI in association with UKTI.
Willie Walsh, British Airways' chief executive, said: “Small and medium businesses are the backbone of our economy and they are hurting badly in the current financial climate. We live in a globalised economy so business opportunities don't always have to live on your doorstep. That is why we are working with Invest NI to help reduce costs for small businesses who are trying to compete on an international level.”
Information on how SMEs can take advantage of the free flight scheme will be announced by British Airways and Invest NI in the coming weeks, the company said.
Ann McGregor, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, said the initiative was positive for the Northern Ireland business community.
“There are real opportunities to win new contracts in the global market and these flights will make it easier for local SMEs to expand internationally, without being crippled by transport costs,” she said.
Robert Hamilton, the director of Northern Ireland Exporters Association (NIEA), said: “The NIEA is very active in setting up trade missions to help NI business win contracts abroad, so we are aware how prohibitive travels costs can be for smaller businesses. This flight giveaway from British Airways is very welcome as any initiative that makes it easier for SMEs to get out there and win new business can only benefit the NI economy.”
SMEs are defined as a company with fewer than 250 employees, an annual turnover figure of €50m and balance figure of €43m.