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Direct flights link to Middle East from Belfast planned

By David Young, PA

The Executive is to engage with airline bosses in the Middle East with the aim of securing a direct air link between the region and Northern Ireland.

Economy Minister Simon Hamilton told the Assembly the issue was repeatedly discussed on his visit to the United Arab Emirates last week.

He said he wanted the main airlines in the UAE - Emirates and Etihad - to know the trade and business opportunities an airline link with Belfast or Londonderry would offer.

"We made some very good useful contacts when we were in Dubai and Abu Dhabi," he told MLAs.

"And, of course, both are homes to major airlines that continue to grow.

"I want to make sure we are talking to key decision-makers within those airlines over the coming months.

"I know that contact has been made in the past, but I want, as they seek to expand further, that they are hearing from Northern Ireland, they are hearing from Belfast or City of Derry (airport) about the potential that there is for Northern Ireland with tourism and of course trade."

Mr Hamilton stressed the importance of a link for Northern Ireland businesses that traded in the Middle East.

The DUP minister also highlighted the potential economic windfall of attracting Middle East tourists to the region.

"Middle East tourists tend to be very, very high spenders and travel in large groups," he told the Assembly.

"Also, in terms of business, if you have that direct connection to the Middle East then there are huge opportunities to grow your trade as a result of that."

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