Brussels sprouts first air link with Belfast for 14 years
A major European airline is to start direct flights from Belfast to Brussels, it has been confirmed.
It will be the first air link between the two cities in 14 years.
The Belfast Telegraph revealed last week that negotiations were at an advanced stage. It's understood that George Best Belfast City Airport is expected to make a formal announcement on Monday morning that Brussels Airlines will launch the new route to the capital of Belgium, the location of the headquarters of the European Commission and Nato.
The route was previously served by the Belgian national carrier Sabena, which went bankrupt in 2001. Brussels Airlines was created from the ashes of the failed company. It is part-owned by the German national carrier Lufthansa, and is part of the Star Alliance network.
The company operates flights to more than 90 destinations in Europe, Africa and the United States. It currently runs services to six UK airports, including London Heathrow, Birmingham and Edinburgh, so the addition of Belfast is seen by the airline as a natural step, say sources.
Its European routes are mainly serviced by Airbus A319 and A320 aircraft, seating between 140 and 170 passengers. It also operates smaller Avro jets. It's not clear how many passengers it aims to carry on the new route, or how frequently it will fly, but sources have said it's likely to operate at least five times a week. Representatives of Belfast City Airport and Brussels Airlines declined to comment.
Brussels is a key destination for business travellers and has long been on the wishlists of the City and International Airports, both of which were vying for the new route. However, it's understood that the airline has developed a close relationship with bosses at the City Airport and favoured the East Belfast terminal.
The Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce was reluctant to comment on the launch of the Brussels service ahead of the formal announcement, but it has been lobbying the Executive and the British government on the importance of direct air routes to European cities.
A Chamber spokesperson said: "The maintenance of existing air routes and the introduction of new routes, particularly to continental Europe and north America, benefit local business people in terms of developing linkages and improving access to overseas customers and international markets.
"It therefore has a direct impact upon Northern Ireland's ability to grow exports and boost investment. Access is also important in order to build our position as a destination for tourism."