US major, United Airlines has announced that it will be offering its customers from Northern Ireland year-round non-stop service from Belfast to its New York hub at Newark Liberty International Airport. In addition to its current schedule, the airline will now also operate the service from January 7, 2016 through to March 10, 2016, three times weekly, a nine week period that it previously planned to close the route during this quieter period.
Originally launched in May 2005 by Continental Airlines, United Airlines took over the link between Newark and Belfast International in April 2012 following the merger of the US majors and initially operated a full year-round offering. However, last winter it cut back capacity and suspended flights from early January and mid March this year. It had planned a similar capacity cut for the forthcoming winter season, but has now reversed this decision.
ROUTES EUROPE 2017 will take place in Belfast, Northern Ireland, hosted by a partnership led by Visit Belfast and Invest NI, and supported by Tourism NI, Tourism Ireland, Belfast International Airport, George Best Belfast City Airport and Belfast City Council. It will be held in the in the newly expanded Belfast Waterfront Conference and Exhibition Centre between April 23-25, 2017.
“We’re pleased to offer our Northern Irish customers a year-round direct link to New York,” said Bob Schumacher, managing director sales, UK and Ireland, United Airlines. “New York remains a popular destination for travellers and our Newark Liberty hub provides the most convenient route into the city as well as easy connections to hundreds of other destinations across the United States and beyond. With this schedule change, we are offering our customers even more choice.”
Belfast International Airport has said the decision by United to return to full year-round service is ‘wonderful news for Northern Ireland’. Its managing director, Graham Keddie, described United’s renewed commitment as “both welcome and substantial” and had followed significant efforts with stakeholders to achieve this outcome. “We are delighted it is now being delivered,” he said.
The decision by United to return to full year-round service is of great significance to the Northern Ireland economy. “Our one and only direct, scheduled Transatlantic service to Newark Liberty is a ‘lifeline’ for US-owned firms and adds massively to efforts by Invest NI to attract additional and highly prized US investment,” said Keddie.
“We were naturally disappointed last year when the service didn’t operate for a nine-week period from January to March, but this positive development should give us all great heart and confidence in the future,” he added.
There are challenges for the Northern Ireland market, however, one of which is how to encourage more business passengers to use country’s main airport in Belfast for the Transatlantic trip rather than travelling elsewhere to connect on to other long-haul flights, most notably down into the Republic of Ireland and flying from Dublin Airport, avoiding UK Air Passenger Duty in the process.
Dublin Airport revealed earlier this year the number of Northern Ireland residents using Dublin Airport increased by 52 per cent to a record 864,000 in 2014 as the Republic’s largest air gateway continued to take advantage of the reduced connectivity on offer from Northern Ireland.
Looking more closely at the data and it is New York JFK that is the most popular destination for Northern Ireland consumers using Dublin Airport, followed by London Heathrow, Manchester, Dubai and Rome. Short-haul routes to the UK and continental Europe account for seven of the ten most popular destinations for Northern Ireland consumers, with the long-haul destinations of New York, Dubai and Abu Dhabi also in the top 10.
“Clearly, United looked at the market and saw sufficient justification for a year-round service which is a further statement of confidence in Northern Ireland. Now, it’s up to all of us to make it even more successful,” added Keddie.
Alongside the link from Belfast, United offers flights from the United States to six other points in the UK (Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, London Heathrow, Manchester and Newcastle) as well as from Dublin to Chicago (on a seasonal basis), New York/Newark and Washington/Dulles and from Shannon to Chicago (on a seasonal basis), New York/Newark. At London Heathrow it operates up to 17 flights per day to six of its US hubs: Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York/Newark, San Francisco and Washington/Dulles.
Our analysis of UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) data shows that passenger demand on the route has declined over the past decade, but still continues to generate annual demand of over 80,000 bi-directional passengers.