Virgin Atlantic set to return to Belfast with four US flights
Airline Virgin Atlantic has said it will return to Belfast International for another four flights to Orlando, Florida, next year.
The company, founded by Sir Richard Branson, yesterday flew out its first Belfast passengers - around 420 - to Orlando.
The weekly return flights will operate another three times throughout the summer.
A spokeswoman for Virgin Atlantic said the seats had not sold out but that next week was the busiest, with 95% already gone.
The airline added there was no job-creation element to their arrival and that they would be using existing airport staff for a small number of roles, in addition to flying staff in from other airports.
Joe Thompson, Virgin Atlantic's senior vice president for network and alliances, revealed that the airline had chosen to fly out of Belfast instead of Dublin because of existing demand from holidaymakers in the province.
"We have seen a great flow of traffic from Northern Ireland to our transatlantic routes from Glasgow and Manchester, so we chose to fly out of Belfast," he said.
And he added that demand had been so strong, the airline had decided to renew the connection for next year's holiday market.
Mr Thompson told how the lack of air passenger duty (APD)on long-haul routes from the province was a factor in its choice, and he said the airline was opposed to all APD. But the senior vice president also announced that the airline's plans for Belfast were limited to holiday destinations.
Mr Thompson further revealed that the airline was behind owner Sir Richard Branson's recent comments, in which the entrepreneur spoke out against the acquisition of Irish airline Aer Lingus by British Airways parent company IAG.
"History shows us that takeovers of airlines end up diminishing the choices of the consumers - as was the case when IAG took over British Midland," he said.
Belfast International managing director Graham Keddie said Virgin Atlantic was "a most welcome addition" to the airport.
"Take-up has been so good that Virgin had no hesitation in announcing a return to Northern Ireland in 2016," he added.
"It will cut quite an imposing dash at our International Pier with its eye-catching 747-400, and I know the service will increase substantially in popularity to easily justify the commitment it is making for 2016."