The first ever non-stop scheduled air service between New York and Belfast touched down at Belfast International Airport this morning.
The new route, operated by Continental Airlines between Belfast and Newark airport, was made possible through a joint investment by Air Route Development (NI) Ltd, (a subsidiary of Invest NI) and Belfast International Airport.
Speaking at the airport before the take off of the first flight, Enterprise Minister Angela Smith said: “This is a very significant development and tremendous news for business travellers and tourists alike. It is also a wonderful expression of confidence in the future of Northern Ireland. Later today I will travel to the Giant’s Causeway to reveal the latest plans for the development of our number one tourist attraction – today is indeed an historic day for Northern Ireland’s tourism industry.
“The commencement of the new direct service is the result of a great team effort involving many organisations, including Invest Northern Ireland, the NI Tourist Board and Tourism Ireland. I must congratulate Belfast International Airport and Continental Airlines our partners in this venture, for their commitment to make this happen.
“Improved air access has been a strategic priority for economic development in Northern Ireland and, with nine new air routes secured over the past year, the Air Route Development company has succeeded in transforming the local air transport scene. I am sure that the Northern Ireland economy will feel the benefits of these new services in the years ahead.”
Commenting on today's event, Leslie Morrison, Chief Executive of Invest Northern Ireland, said: "North America is a key export market for local manufacturing companies, accounting for 22% of total NI manufacturing exports valued in the region of $1.6bn. New York is also the American financial centre, with many of the largest international banks and financial institutions. This new air route will provide local business people with direct and quicker access to New York, and one-stop access to connecting destinations in North and South America."
Alan Clarke, Chief Executive of NITB, said: "The impact of direct access to Northern Ireland for American tourists cannot be overestimated. Last year US visitor numbers increased by one-fifth to 100,000, and by 2007 we aim to increase that to 145,000. This is a symbol of future growth potential and a great confidence boost for Northern Ireland tourism. Direct access from New York will certainly help us achieve this ambitious target. In addition, past evidence shows that tourists flying directly into Northern Ireland can be expected to contribute more to the local economy than those travelling via GB or the Republic of Ireland."
Paul O’Toole, Chief Executive of Tourism Ireland, said: “We are tremendously excited by the advent of this new route and have worked closely with Continental Airlines on a range of co-operative marketing and advertising actions in the United States to maximise awareness of this direct service to Belfast. Global competition has never been stronger so we need to motivate consumers with compelling offers and reasons to visit Northern Ireland combined with a range of competitively-priced access options. The new direct transatlantic air service will be of great assistance in that task and has the potential to provide a significant boost in US visitor numbers.”