Norwegian decision to axe Belfast-US flights an 'erratic' move, expert claims
Northern Ireland needs a "sustainable solution" to the provision of transatlantic air links after Norwegian Air announced it was suspending winter flights, it's been claimed.
Travel writer Simon Calder made the comments following the budget airline's decision on Wednesday to axe the Belfast-US services for the winter months due to "low demand".
The airline announced routes from Belfast International to the greater New York and Boston areas in February 2017, with flights beginning in July last year.
Before Norwegian launched its routes, United Airlines ran Northern Ireland's only direct link to the US.
However, poor financial performance rendered the service unsustainable.
A £9m rescue deal agreed by Stormont and United collapsed a few months before the route was halted last January because the financial package breached EU state rules.
Mr Calder, who is travel correspondent at the Independent, said Norwegian's decision to cancel the flights after such a short period of activity displays the "increasingly erratic behaviour" of the airline.
"This is very disappointing news. There clearly has to be a long-term, sustainable solution to this problem," he said.
"There has to be a direct link between Northern Ireland and North America.
"United Airlines, a major network carrier tried it and failed.
"Norwegian, a budget airline, tried and has seemingly failed. What seems to be needed is a low-cost option with the network availability of a major airline. How Norwegian have handled the situation shows them becoming increasingly erratic."
In response, Norwegian said they "still see potential at Belfast" and "remain committed" to making the routes work".
"There is stronger passenger demand for flights from Belfast to the New York and Boston areas in the summer period and they will continue through October," the airline added.
"We will continue to assess our transatlantic route performance as we confirm the route schedule for summer 2019."
Tourism Ireland said the decision was "very regrettable", but said it "understood airlines have to make tough decisions".