New London route unveiled: Flybe targets business with flight into heart of the Belfast
New flights to London are being hailed as a vote of confidence to Northern Ireland's tourism and export potential.
Flybe yesterday announced three new direct daily routes from George Best Belfast City Airport to London City Airport in a package that includes four return flights to Dublin.
The low cost carrier has announced a five-year deal to the London hub which it hopes will attract an additional half-a-million passengers a year when it takes off on October 27.
The additional routes are expected to encourage further investment in Northern Ireland and have been long-sought after by commuting businessmen and women. It is also hoped the competition could lead to lower air fares.
The expansion will create 100 new jobs across the new routes which include Edinburgh, Inverness and Exeter, launching in the autumn.
The flights are already available online from £39.99 one-way.
The new flights are expected to cut journey times to London's financial heart, compared to routes to Heathrow, Gatwick and Luton.
Last week Flybe launched a rebranding of its fleet unveiling a vibrant fleet of purple aircraft and cabin crew livery. The airline also plans to add off-peak flights to French and Spanish ski resorts.
East Belfast MP Naomi Long believes the flights could lead to further investment in the local economy.
"It will be an important selling point when espousing the attractiveness of Northern Ireland, as companies seeking to invest can step off the plane and be in the city centre in a few minutes.
"This new route is proof of that and will become a vital link, particularly for business travellers.
"It also serves a demand for those, especially in the finance sector, to connect with the City of London, and could aid further expansion of financial services locally."
Brian Ambrose of George Best Belfast City Airport said: "I have no doubt London City will prove a popular service especially with business passengers."
The NI Chamber of Commerce welcomed the new Belfast service as "vital" to exporters.
Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said the new route was "excellent news for the Northern Ireland business community who have been seeking this service for some time".
Tourism Ireland's CEO Niall Gibbons said the flights were "absolutely critical" to tourism.
Belfast City Airport has had limited service to London City Airport, serviced briefly in 2000 and between 2007 and 2008.