Minister greets airport arrivals
Air passengers would not usually expect to be welcomed by a government minister bearing gifts, but that is what awaited one Dutch visitor as Belfast City airport marked its first direct service to Europe.
Tourism minister Arlene Foster was on the runway to present Ingrid Haye with a Belleek Pottery vase after the maiden flight from Amsterdam touched down.
Not altogether surprisingly, there were also plenty of tulips on hand to celebrate the occasion.
The bmibaby service from the Netherlands is one of seven new European routes operated by the budget carrier, with flights to Geneva beginning in December and Malaga, Faro, Alicante, Palma and Ibiza starting next year.
The length of the airport's runway has restricted its ability to operate continental routes - and was the main reason it lodged its contentious planning bid to extend it - but bmibaby has made engine changes to enable their planes to take off with the required fuel load.
Mrs Foster said the start of the European flights was great news for both visitors and business travellers.
"I believe it will help stimulate further growth between Northern Ireland and Europe, making it even easier for people to come here on business or on holiday," she said.
"The range of flights on offer, frequency and value help to ensure we can connect with visitors. We are expecting 2012 to be a successful year for tourism, with a whole host of fantastic events lined up, including the completion of the Giants Causeway Visitors' Centre and the opening of Titanic Belfast.
"There has never been a better time to show potential tourists around the world why they should put Northern Ireland at the top of their 'must see' list."
Brian Ambrose, chief executive at Belfast City airport, said: "It has long been our publicly stated ambition to offer direct European services and we're delighted to welcome our first European visitors courtesy of our partner bmibaby."