Year-round transatlantic air link returns to Belfast
Business has welcomed news that Northern Ireland's only transatlantic air link will return to a year-round service in 2016.
United Airlines said the flight from Belfast International to Newark will be back at full capacity after it suspended the link from January to March this year.
The airline had also reduced capacity on other transatlantic routes from Dublin, Rome and Manchester in cost-cutting measures during the same period.
According to the Department of Finance and Personnel, there are nearly 23,000 people working for up to 190 US-owned firms in Northern Ireland - many of which were hampered in their commuting efforts by the route suspension.
Wilfred Mitchell, policy chair at the Federation of Small Businesses, said: "This is a welcome announcement as it will assist in boosting the Northern Ireland economy.
"To attract foreign direct investment to the local economy there needs to be a package of benefits readily available to investors - one of the most important being a direct route to and from Northern Ireland.
"Within the UK, there is a unique relationship between Northern Ireland and the USA, given the well-established Irish-American Community, that we can build upon."
He said he had been encouraged by proposals for American investment in Northern Ireland during a recent visit to the US - but added: "It is vital to ensure that this be further encouraged through the accessibility of direct air routes between Northern Ireland and the USA."
United Airlines managing director Bob Schumacher said: "New York remains a popular destination for travellers and our Newark Liberty hub provides the most convenient route into the city as well as easy connections to hundreds of other destinations across the United States and beyond.
"With this schedule change, we are offering our customers even more choice."
The all-year service will also be welcome news to Belfast International. It has lost out on passengers to Dublin Airport, which has aggressively marketed its services and routes north of the border.
During the period of suspension earlier this year, those travelling to the US will have been forced to travel via London or Dublin.
Belfast International Airport managing director Graham Keddie said: "This is wonderful news. We have been working with stakeholders to achieve this outcome and we are delighted it is now being delivered.
"The decision by United to return to full year-round service is of great significance to the Northern Ireland economy."