United to say farewell to Belfast International in 2017

One of the biggest airlines in the world, United Airlines is set to pull out of its Belfast International to Newark route in January 2017.

The Executive had agreed a £9 million aid package to the airline (this is on top of the cuts to APD that are already in place) to help keep the route going.  The EU has however, blocked the aid package on state aid grounds.

I have used this route many times and my brother brings many of his clients back from California via this route, so I can see why having it is a bonus. However, I felt that the aid package to an airline which does not need money and has a net income that would account for roughly 70% of our block grant was an incredible waste of funds considering the support that is already there and the fact that Dublin is only 100 miles down the road with immigration controls to the USA on this side of travelling there. It is important to keep in mind that United already operate a route to Dublin and airlines like Aer Lingus have upped their offering to the USA over the past year.

If anything positive can come from this it has to be a review of how we manage aviation in Northern Ireland. Simply throwing money at airlines is not enough, we need to have the best offering at our airports and proper coordination with routes going to Heathrow and Dublin as the two main hubs of travel within the UK and Ireland.

Here is the response from Belfast International Airport;

To block a support package for an airline that delivers direct access to the United States is almost beyond comprehension.

This is a bad day for the executive and a bad day for Northern Ireland, which is still finding its feet after a generation lost to conflict. The United service was well supported and only recently carried its millionth passenger.

We have worked tirelessly to safeguard the service, but Brussels took a different view, believing the support package gave United an unfair advantage over services from elsewhere.


Also on the package

David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs

  • OneNI

    Of course if the Executive wanted to make the Airport more competitive it could designate the Airport and its environs as an Enterprise Zone…..
    One assumes that the £2.5m ‘bung’ to City of Derry airport which was clearly a DUP/SF quid pro quo will also be scrapped?

  • Teddybear

    Belfast has delusions of grandeur sometimes. We are a regional capital of the ilk of Bristol, Hull, Newcastle. We sometimes think we are London

    If we wish to travel abroad then we have to do what many others do in GB ie travel to a major hub and then fly to our destination.

  • Declan Doyle

    So the Belfast region with a population of approx one million souls will be the only Irish region with no direct air link to the US. Pax will have to travel to Dublin or fly to the UK to connect. Even Knock and Cork can manage a direct link !

  • D.Spoon

    The regularity of flights and destinations and being able to clear immigration at Dublin makes it a much more attractive offering for many. Thanks to EU funding for all those new roads it doesn’t take that long to get there either.

    The fact that a “rescue” of any kind was needed speaks volumes for the viability of the route. Once the £9m had run out they’d have been off anyway.

  • OneNI

    Simon Hamilton has all but admitted that he was bounced into this daft arrangement.
    I dont blame him however, he’s a vaguely sane Conservative. Truth is he is trapped by this insane SF/DUP ‘Govt’ that think govt is about ‘bunging’ money to pet projects – Orange Halls, Casement Park, the A5, city of Derry airport, the Narrow Water Bridge – not to mention Charter NI and the SIF

  • lizmcneill

    It’ll be less attractive if Brexit puts customs/immigration controls on the Irish border. Maybe they can spend the 9M on an British/Irish border preclearance in Belfast instead.

    ETA: they could also give some of it to Dublin airport to build a better bus shelter where the aircoach stops, it’s freezing at 6am.

  • Brendan Heading

    Simon Hamilton has all but admitted that he was bounced into this daft arrangement.

    No he wasn’t. And today he went on the record to say he would do the same thing again.

    Truth is he is trapped by this insane SF/DUP ‘Govt’ that think govt is about ‘bunging’ money to pet projects

    Simon Hamilton is part of the government, not some sort of reluctant bystander.

  • Brendan Heading

    That’s odd, I just looked up Cork airport’s website and it shows no direct links to the US at all ..

  • Gingray

    Ha ha ha, very good 🙂

  • Adam Martin

    I think he meant Shannon airport in Clare.

  • Adam Martin

    Does the Irish government really need to be talking down NI to potential US investors?

  • Declan Doyle
  • NotNowJohnny

    Or they could put a railway station on the railway line that already exists and runs right past the airport and then start running the enterprise service from Dublin to Derry so there would be a direct link from Dublin to the airport thereby increasing the potential for passenger numbers significantly.

  • Declan Doyle

    You need to invest in a woolly coat, have you tried Avoca mills?

  • Declan Doyle

    Not sure if Dublin can manage much more. 23 milion, I think is the latest figure with flights all over the planet. Maybe Belfast International could open up as a Chip Shop or something, and let the aviation professionals get on with it elsewhere.

  • Croiteir
  • NotNowJohnny

    I’ve no idea what point you are attempting to make here. I wasn’t referring to Dublin airport.

  • Zig70

    With the recent Nama history and how ridiculous this deal looks as value for money, you have to wonder who got the brown envelopes and do they get paid back. Absolutely, nobody here is stuck for a flight to the states. I’m sure the Americans are still laughing at 9mil so that unionists don’t have to drive 90mins south. SF did themselves no favours in helping either unless they reckoned on it failing and keeping the Derry investment.

  • AntrimGael

    Dublin is OUR main airport now and most carriers are responding thus. The North is a small, failed provincial statelet and doesn’t need or require George Best, Belfast ‘International (what a hoot) or wee Derry. It is good that overseas are giving the Northern Frankenstein’s monster creation the contempt it deserves.

  • Brendan Heading

    Croteir, I said “direct links” which is what we are debating here. There are no direct flights from Cork to the US.

  • Brendan Heading

    (a) they’re not flying yet
    (b) they’re not even licensed to fly to the US
    (c) it’s not even clear that this route could ever be viable

    When you said that “Belfast will be the only Irish region with no direct air link to the US” you were wrong.

  • Declan Doyle

    The key is in “will be”

  • Declan Doyle

    I thought you meant upgrading the transfer infrastructure to feed more pax to dublin.

  • NotNowJohnny

    No. I was proposing making the international airport more accessible to the Dublin market while st the same time improving accessibility between Derry and Dublin.

  • Oggins

    Improve the road network to the North West, offer more and better transport to N.W (includes Donegal).

    We have a capable airport in Dublin, we have airlines to Heathrow and other major airports on Mainland Europe.

    The blindness of people believing this flight would be the tipping point for American investors is astonishing. The flight was on par to Ryanair model. We have a second tier airport flying to a second tier airport, offer a cheap alternative. Dublin offers flights to loads more airports in the states.

    When a business is booking flights, they look clear on price and location. An investor from Chicago will fly direct to Dublin. They will not get all ‘teary eyed’ and fly to Newark, just to fly directly to Belfast.


  • oval

    Good sensible article. It was obvious immediately that this was likely to be classified as state aid so was bizarre that the Executive went ahead before being sure…. unless of course DUP wanted an excuse to rant about unelected bureaucrats in Brussels. Funny that unelected making decisions isn’t a problem in the Assembly when they (and the other too) abuse the co-option process.