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Executive's '£9m deal' secures Northern Ireland's only air link to US


United Airlines will receive a major boost, thanks largely to Stormont funds

United Airlines will receive a major boost, thanks largely to Stormont funds

United Airlines will receive a major boost, thanks largely to Stormont funds

The Executive has agreed a multi-million pound support package to keep Northern Ireland's only existing air link to the USA going.

Unconfirmed reports suggest that the support package is in the region of £9m over three years, with the bulk of the money coming from the Stormont budget.

A spokesman for Belfast International Airport declined to reveal the amount of financial support that has been made available, but was in a position to confirm that "a significant support package" had been agreed to save the United Airlines daily service to Newark.

United Airlines' transatlantic route has had a chequered history in the past few years - it was suspended in 2015 - and the airline was preparing to axe the service within weeks.

Belfast International Airport managing director Graham Keddie lauded the effort and commitment that went into the negotiations.

"This was teamwork at its best," the airport chief said.

"It's not overstating it when I say that this was an outstanding achievement for Northern Ireland plc.

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"We burned the midnight oil to get this deal across the line."

Mr Keddie praised the dogged determination of both local and UK political figures in getting the support deal agreed.

"In the end, we got a tremendous result, one that we can all be justifiably proud of," he said.

"The United service is our one and only direct link to the United States of America, which is a market of enormous importance for the NI economy.

"As we go about 'selling' Northern Ireland as an ideal location for foreign direct investment, with the big plus of a reduced rate of corporation tax, it is essential that we have direct access to that market."

Last night Ulster Unionist MP for South Antrim Danny Kinahan also welcomed the rescue package.

He said that United Airlines had intended to cancel the service but intervention led by himself, along with colleagues from across the political spectrum, enabled a new package to be offered to United to keep the transatlantic route operating.

"This is an excellent example of what can be achieved when political differences can be put aside," the MP said.

"The loss of this vital tourism and business link to the United States would have had a serious economic impact on Northern Ireland."

Details of the financial support package for United have not yet been officially made public.