Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson has said the decision by United Airlines to halt its Belfast to Newark route is a serious blow to Northern Ireland, in economic and social terms.
Stewart Dickson said: “To lose our only direct air route from Northern Ireland to the United States will have a serious impact on our business community as well as local people using it to visit family or for holidays. Coming just weeks after United was offered £9 million to keep the route open after they threatened to pull it is a slap in the face to our Executive. That offer of funding was made without a business case and despite the understanding that the route makes money, but United wanted the aircraft for other more profitable services.
“We now learn that the funding was blocked by the EU Commission and I am calling on the Executive to explain what discussions were held with the Commission before the announcement, which was made with great fanfare. Is this another case of the Executive seeking good news headlines without adequate preparation? Did they even bother to check if this funding could break EU rules? It looks like the Executive and the Department for the Economy have let us down again.
“We also need a clear strategy from the Executive outlining what they are doing to attract another airline to this route as a matter of urgency. Our airports are already facing strong competition from Dublin airport and it is time we had a strong plan to develop Belfast’s air links with the rest of the world to help grow our economy.”