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Ryanair unveils Belfast to Berlin flights

By Margaret Canning

Northern Ireland will have a link to the "best tourists in the world" when a direct air route between Belfast International Airport and Berlin starts up, it's been claimed.

Irish budget airline Ryanair starts its first international flight from Belfast International with the Berlin route on Thursday, which will operate three times a week.

And the airport said the route had already led to strong demand in both directions but would not give details on numbers.

It's also introducing its routes from Belfast International to Spain this week, along with Milan Bergamo.

Ryanair will be hoping for more success on the Berlin route than rival easyJet, which cancelled its former Belfast-Berlin flights in 2008 after around three years. It announced its return to Belfast - five years after pulling out of Belfast City - in January.

Simon Calder, travel editor at The Independent, said he believed the route would be a success.

"Germans are the best tourists in the world, at least in terms of the numbers that they export," he added.

"So even if a country attracts only a tiny percentage of international travellers from Germany, that amounts to a healthy number. Germans are also very good at spotting opportunities - such as the value and lack of crowds offered by Northern Ireland, which is still some way from achieving its full tourist potential."

Belfast International managing director Graham Keddie said: "Germany is one of the biggest outbound tourist markets in the world and for far too long, we weren't able to attract visitors directly to Northern Ireland. At no cost to the taxpayer, Ryanair will deliver thousands of German tourists in its first full year of operation."

This month, United Airline's route from Belfast International Airport to Newark Airport in New York State received a £9m bail-out from the Executive.

And Economy Minister Simon Hamilton said the new German route would bring an economic benefit to Northern Ireland.

"Connecting with new and strategic destinations such as Berlin will be a huge boost for the business and tourism markets," he added.

"With air passenger numbers at our airports continuing to grow, this new Ryanair Berlin route is further evidence of a returning confidence to the Northern Ireland travel market."

The Irish airline - which campaigned against Brexit - also starts a new route travelling to Milan Bergamo twice a week. And it is also introducing new routes to the sun destinations of Alicante, Malaga and Tenerife, and to the Polish destinations of Gdansk, Krakow, Warsaw and Wroclaw.

Following the Brexit vote, Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary said the airline would start focusing on EU airports beyond the UK.

He said the vote had been a "surprise and a disappointment".

"In the meantime, we will pivot our growth away from UK airports and focus more on growing at our EU airports over the next two years," he added.

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