There was a Glasgow homecoming at Belfast City Airport as the first Loganair arrival from the city touched down on Friday afternoon.
It comes nearly 40 years after the same airline launched the first ever commercial flight from Belfast City to Glasgow in 1983.
It’s hoped the new route will mark a major step in the road to recovery after a disastrous 2020 saw the collapse of FlyBe in March and the airline industry all but grounded due to the pandemic.
Around 50 passengers disembarked from the small tartan painted aircraft in Belfast before 1pm last Friday, with all seen to be wearing masks.
The cabin crew’s new routine saw them quickly clean all touch points on board, with just 30 minutes before welcoming new passengers on board.
Approximately 30 passengers were on the outbound flight, and on this occasion, most had a spare seat beside them.
Just two flights a day between the cities are operating to start, with the hope demand will soon increase to allow six or seven.
The appeal of a 25-minute flight with stunning views of the Scottish highlands along the way is easy to see, but with fresh lockdown restrictions announced in Glasgow the airline and others face an uphill battle to convince more passengers it’s safe to travel.
Welcoming Loganair back to Belfast was the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce’s Chief Executive, Ann McGregor.
She said it showed “a boost of confidence” which would help businesses in both cities.
“Our tourism sector needs this, they’re down 70% on last year and any connectivity to get customers back is so important so we congratulate Loganair,” she said.
“I know Belfast City Airport has good hygiene, and if everybody follows the guidance we can minimise the risk.
“I would encourage visitors from all over the UK to come to Northern Ireland. We have a fantastic product to offer. There’s lots of really great outdoor experiences like the Giant’s Causeway or the Fermanagh Lakes.”
Belfast City Airport’s Chief Executive, Brian Ambrose, added: “It’s wonderful to get the route network re-established against the backdrop of the pandemic.”
He said rebuilding the network of routes out of Belfast has been a major challenge, but the goal was now to increase demand.
The airport is currently operating at about a third of its capacity compared to this time last year.
“We can only go as quickly as the market recovers. People need time to get their confidence back,” he said.
With a mix of business and leisure passengers on the initial flight, he predicted demand would increase once people started to return to office working.
Asked how he would reassure people still scared to fly, given the recent restrictions in Glasgow, he said: “I think everyone has to make their own mind up, certainly from an airport point of view the terminal has been reconfigured and it’s a very safe place to pass through.
“There’s no difficulty with people spacing themselves out so they should feel safe on their journey right through the airport, en route with the airline with measures on board.
“When people are comfortable, we’re ready for you and when the demand is there we’ll increase the capacity.”
Loganair Chief Executive Jonathan Hinkles said he was delighted to restore the link between Belfast and Glasgow.
“It’s great to be back here today, re-enacting that (1983) route and getting Loganair firmly back into the heart of Belfast.”
Addressing those apprehensive of air travel, he said: “Well I can understand their caution and each and every person needs to decide when it’s right for them to start travelling again.”
He continued: “We’ve put as many steps as we can think of to make the journey as Covid secure for our customers as we can.
“Those people who are flying are telling us they have a high level of confidence and that it’s working well.”
Taking his first flight of 2020 was Glasgow Chamber of Commerce’s Chief Executive Stuart Patrick.
“Obviously at this time with so much crisis in our minds and interruptions to business activity... the opportunity to celebrate a new route being opened up between our two great cities is just fantastic.”
He said building up an exchange of tourists in the coming months was essential.
Mr Patrick described the latest disruption of lockdown in Glasgow as “quite proportionate” and said the city was still open for business.
“It was targeted towards household interaction, so actually the business community has continued - hotels and restaurants are still operating.
“We understand the politicians are making their judgements on what the scientific data is saying.
“Of course, the circumstances will be different for each region or city that’s faced with a challenge.”