Passenger numbers have fallen off a cliff as the coronavirus crisis continues to cripple the travel industry, with one Northern Ireland airport experiencing a 91% drop in travellers.
George Best Belfast City Airport saw terminal and transit passengers fall from over a quarter of a million in July 2019 (256,565) to just 22,976 two months ago, according to figures from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
Belfast International Airport (BIA) also reported a slump in passenger numbers, down from 639,412 to 103,921, or 84%.
The news comes as BIA boss Graham Keddie slammed the UK Government for a new policy that makes Northern Ireland the only region that does not benefit from duty free for European Union flights, rendering us less competitive than the rest of UK and Ireland.
Airlines and airports have seen customer demand fall dramatically due to lockdowns, travel restrictions, quarantine concerns and Covid-19 worries.
BIA blamed the worldwide pandemic for its "devastating effect" on travel.
"In July we carried almost 80% of Northern Ireland's air passengers, however, that is a fraction of what we would normally carry during our peak summer months," a spokeswoman said.
"In the three months since flights began operating we have had in excess of 400,000 passengers as well as facilitating almost 1,000 cargo, medical and military flights in order to keep Northern Ireland fully equipped with the pandemic. The worldwide Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on global aviation and Belfast International Airport is no exception."
Mr Keddie, BIA's managing director, said that a new policy due to come into effect in January will be detrimental to Northern Ireland because it will be the only part of the UK that does not benefit from duty free for EU flights. He added that it will make air travel in Northern Ireland less competitive than the rest of the UK and Ireland.
"The Government has once again shown a complete lack of awareness for the jobs and businesses on the line in the aviation sector," said Mr Keddie.
"Our industry is weathering the worst crisis in the history of civil aviation, it can scarcely afford another hammer blow like this. By removing the airside statutory concession, the Government is needlessly harming the revenue of retailers and airports.
"Passengers will be disincentivised from making purchases as they travel through the UK.
"By extending the duty free sales to EU countries from GB only, it puts Northern Ireland airports at a complete disadvantage and instead of achieving additional revenue for the UK Treasury, passengers will choose to fly out of neighbouring airports, and the sales and job roles will be lost to the Northern Ireland and UK economy. I strongly urge the Government to reconsider, review its proposal and act in partnership with its once world-beating aviation industry to secure jobs, businesses and livelihoods across the country."
A spokesperson for Belfast City Airport added: "Over the summer months our airline partners resumed activity from Belfast City Airport and we are currently seeing passenger numbers increase slowly but steadily.
"Since July we have commenced a number of new routes with Aer Lingus, British Airways, Eastern Airways and Loganair. These include Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, London City, Manchester and Southampton, all of which were previously operated by Flybe."