Economy Minister Simon Hamilton MLA has expressed his deep regret at the news that United Airlines is to withdraw its Belfast to Newark service.
Commenting, Simon Hamilton said: “The Executive did the right thing with its bid to save this key route. There was a risk to the flight and we stepped in to save it. Faced with the same circumstances again, I would make the same decisions. All public money has been recouped with interest and we retained the route for a longer period.
“Back in the summer I was faced with an ultimatum from United Airlines that without additional support from the Northern Ireland Executive they would withdraw our only transatlantic route. Given the importance of air connectivity to North America, I sought and received Executive support for a package of assistance that would keep the route in place. Our decision to support the route was praised by many and had we not have made an effort to save the United flight we would have been rightly criticised.
“We were always aware of the potential of an issue around state aid compliance, but given the tight timescale to put a package of support in place, approval by the European Commission could not be sought in advance of agreeing a deal with United and it was our view, on balance, that given this was our only direct flight to the USA, state aid was not a factor. It is, therefore, deeply regrettable that unelected bureaucrats in Brussels have effectively scuppered this important flight for Northern Ireland.
“I am determined to make every effort to improve Northern Ireland’s air connectivity. I have signalled my intention to establish an Air Routes Task Force to devise new policies and interventions that will secure more flights to key inbound tourism and trade markets and I have already been in discussions about bringing new airlines to Northern Ireland. In spite of this setback, I will not shy away from doing all that I can to enhance our air connectivity”.