Continental route launch boosts TBI

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The Independent Online

The American carrier Continental Airlines is to receive more than £1m from the UK taxpayer in return for launching the first transatlantic service between Northern Ireland and the US. .

The American carrier Continental Airlines is to receive more than £1m from the UK taxpayer in return for launching the first transatlantic service between Northern Ireland and the US. Details of the aid emerged yesterday as Continental saidit would begin operating a daily service from Belfast International airport to New York Newark from May next year.

Continental said it was confident of generating strong demand from business and leisure passengers on the route. Barry Gardiner, a junior Northern Ireland minister, described Continental's investment as "evidence the peace process is paying real dividends", adding that the province was now seen as a safe destination for tourists.

Government officials emphasised that it was quite normal to offer airlines financial help to launch new routes from regional airports, pointing out that the air route development fund had also been used to fund new services from Scotland.

Continental will operate daily from Belfast during the summer months, cutting down to four services a week during the winter.

The arrival of the US carrier is a boost for TBI, the operator of Belfast International. The group said passenger numbers at the airport were up by 12 per cent in the first half of the year due to expansion by low-cost airlines and charter operators and should grow further when Continental begins services.

Overall, passenger numbers increased by 9 per cent at TBI's European airports. Apart from Belfast, these also include Luton, Cardiff and Stockholm Skavsta in Sweden.

Luton will receive a boost next Monday when Ryanair, Europe's biggest no-frills airline, starts operating nine routes from the airport. EasyJet, the rival low-cost carrier, has also increased flights from Luton.

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