A new airline called Fly Atlantic plans to make Northern Ireland the hub for flights to North America.
Flights from Belfast are due to begin in the summer of 2024, connecting the UK and mainland Europe to various destinations in the US and Canada.
Currently, the only transatlantic connections from Belfast are seasonal charter flights.
Fly Atlantic says it will operate from Belfast International Airport and use narrow-body aircraft, but has not yet decided whether to use Boeing 737 Max or Airbus A321 aircraft.
Initially it is planned to use six aircraft, and then expand the fleet of 18 aircraft, serving 35 destinations from Belfast.
Fly Atlantic CEO Andrew Pine said: “We see Belfast as a strong aviation hub connecting Europe and North America.
“The lack of a direct transatlantic air service has clearly been an obstacle to the economic and tourist development of Northern Ireland, which we now intend to remove.
“The project can change the rules of the game. This is the airline that will provide greater connectivity and help bring Northern Ireland’s unique identity to a global audience.”
Graeme Caddy, Managing Director of the airport, said: “We applaud Fly Atlantic’s announcement and look forward to seeing them take this project forward as it will bring real economic benefits to the Northern Ireland economy and further enhance our international connections.”
Local government. Antrim and Newtonabby City Council provided support.
Mayor Alderman Stephen Ross said: “Improving connectivity is a key part of our economic development strategy and we are delighted that Fly Atlantic has chosen Belfast International Airport as its hub offering direct flights to North America, the UK and Europe.
In 2018, low-cost airline Norwegian set up a small US network based at Belfast International, but this proved to be unviable.
United Airlines previously flew from Belfast International to New York Newark, but dropped the route in 2016 due to poor financial performance.
Flyglobespan connected Belfast to Toronto and Orlando in 2009, before the airline collapsed.
Rob Burgess, Frequent Flyer Site Editor Strive for points, said: “Is there a gap in the market for long-haul flights from Belfast? The airport does not currently have scheduled flights to the US, but of course it will compete with more US flights from Dublin.
Belfast International also does not have extensive links to the UK and Europe as most short haul carriers use Belfast City Airport.
“The truth is that new aircraft such as the Airbus A321LR allow narrow-body aircraft to reach the US East Coast at a low cost, and with fewer than 200 seats, these aircraft can work well in smaller cities such as Belfast.
“What is not clear is whether Fly Atlantic will be able to attract high-spending business travelers who require high-frequency flights and the comfort of alternatives in the event of flight delays or cancellations.”
Airline schedule analyst Sean Moulton said: “Most UK regional airports do not have a direct flight to New York, Toronto or Boston, including major cities such as Birmingham, Newcastle, Liverpool and Bristol.
“Fly Atlantic has the ability to pick up passengers from existing legacy carriers to connect them to the US.
“We’ll see how it works in practice.”
Belfast International Airport is about 300 miles closer to New York than the London airports and slightly closer than Dublin.
EasyJet is currently the flag carrier of Belfast International.
Credit: www.independent.co.uk /