Belfast Telegraph

Airline urged to save US service

The operator of Northern Ireland's only New York flights has come under fresh pressure to save the service.

With Continental Airlines due to decide soon on the loss-making route's viability, Craigavon-based pharmaceutical provider Almac has urged the airline to persevere.

The business employs more than 1,100 people in the United States, many located at their North American headquarters in Pennsylvania.

Chief executive Alan Armstrong said: "At this point, when Northern Ireland is doing its best to attract inward investment, loss of this service would be a major body blow to potential new companies thinking of setting up here."

Politicians have already called for a cut in the Northern Ireland air passenger duty rate after Continental, which operates between Belfast and New Jersey, said it may have to withdraw because of it. The tax adds £60 to every flight to the US.

Mr Armstrong said Continental's daily service from Belfast to Newark played a significant role in helping the company decide where to locate its new facility in North America.

"The convenience of Belfast International Airport for our staff and customers, combined with the flight schedule and competitive pricing, have all made a valuable contribution to the expansion of our business," he said.

"It is a remarkable fact that from departing Newark airport you can be on our Craigavon site within seven hours."

Executives from Continental told a committee of MPs that it could not justify paying £3.2 million a year in departure tax when the levy in the Republic of Ireland is significantly lower.

Air passenger duty should be abolished on all flights from Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee said. A report by the politicians has also suggested services to Northern Ireland from Great Britain should be exempt to counter the threat the tax poses to the economy.

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