Airline Liberates Northern Ireland's Route to America

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Byline: ADRIENNE MCGILL

Northern Ireland air passengers will now be able to take a bite out of the Big Apple like never before!

Continental Airlines new non-stop transatlantic service between Belfast International Airport and New York's Newark International Airport is certainly a tasty prospect for business and leisure passengers.

The new service, announced last week is the only year round scheduled non-stop transatlantic service from Northern Ireland and the first direct service ever to operate from Northern Ireland to the USA.

It means Northern Ireland business and leisure passengers will be able to fly to the world's financial capital and America's top tourist destination easier and faster than ever before. Passengers will now be able to save valuable time by no longer having to connect through Heathrow or travelling to Dublin. From Newark, they'll also be able to fly onto 170 destinations in North and South America served by Continental.

The Belfast to Newark route begins on May 27 with a daily service in the summer months and a four-a-week service in the winter season.

Jim Summerford Continental's Vice President Europe & Middle East, who jetted into Northern Ireland and announced details of the new service amid the plush decor of the Belfast Harbour Commissioners office in Corporation Square said he believed it would be a huge success. ``We have seen traffic demand over the years growing and we expect around 70,000 people to use this service in the first year. Convenience is a big factor. Passengers will no longer have the delays and hassle of connecting through Heathrow. Also Newark airport is a great hub and a gateway to New York City and offers many excellent transfers to all parts of the city.''

Securing the route is a major coup for Belfast International Airport which, since the Spring, has launched seven new direct services to international destinations.

BIA managing director Albert Harrison said Continental's entrance would ``bring a whole new dimension'' to the flying experience to and from Northern Ireland. ``Continental is an award winning operator and passengers can look forward to a terrific service.It will be a real treat for people who want to go shopping in New York or for business people who can connect to 170 destinations. The flight times are superb and travel times to and from New York have been reduced by around four to five hours. This service will be a real success and I believe we could go to two flights a day.''

The launch of the new service has been secured in part by financial assistance from the pounds 4m Air Route Development Fund. The Fund was established by the government last year to provide start-up financial assistance to airlines operating routes seen to be of economic benefit to Northern Ireland.

Continental has received more than pounds 1m from the fund, which Mr Summerford said was a ``help''. ``When we enter a route we enter it for the long term. We feel this is a long term sustainable route and the funding will help. ``We have seen the Northern Ireland economy growing and think now is the time to put this service on. Our research has shown there is demand,'' said Mr Summerford.

North America is a key export market for Northern Ireland's manufacturing companies accounting for 22 per cent of manufacturing exports. There are more than 160 US owned firms operating in the Province, employing around 22,000 people.

Bill McGinnis, chairman of the Air Route Development Fund said the Belfast to New York route was a ``major breakthrough'' for the scheme. ``North America is one of our target markets and the new route will provide direct and quicker access to the world's biggest and most influential economy. It will also have positive rewards for inbound tourism and subsequently benefit the Northern Ireland economy. ``This is a worthwhile venture to support and we have a strong commitment from Continental. …