The Northern Ireland question

By | Category: Travel rumblings
A United flight taxing on the runway

United won’t be flying from Belfast to Newark much longer

To say that there is a lot of anger in Northern Ireland  over the decision to cancel the provinces’ only transatlantic flight is a bit of an understatement.

The province’s politicians, Belfast International Airport and many tourism people had fought hard for a direct transatlantic flight in order to try and level the playing field with their neighbours in the south. They were seeing Northern Irelanders heading to Dublin to catch flights. The start of the United Airlines service to Newark – one of three airports serving New York – was something they were intensely proud of and the belief was that having worked hard to get the service they would work hard to keep it.

They’ve failed. But why?

United says that the route isn’t economic. The airport says, “the ruling by the European Commission to block the funding package to protect Northern Ireland’s one and only scheduled trans-Atlantic service defies logic and is an example of ‘abysmal Brussels decision-making.” It went on to say “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. That, on its own, is bizarre as the package in no way competes or conflicts with competitors within the United Kingdom. The EU decision-making process is abysmal, biased and unfair and has resulted in the loss of this service.”

That is some fairly harsh language. Brexit campaigners have suggested Brussels is flexing its muscles. Opponents say this justifies the UK leaving.

The Northern Ireland Economy Minister, Simon Hamilton issued a statement which included the sentence, “Back in the summer I was faced with an ultimatum from United Airlines that without additional support from the Northern Ireland Executive they would withdraw our only transatlantic route. “

This suggests that the route wasn’t economic.

Hamilton went on to say, “…it was our view, on balance, that given this was our only direct flight to the USA, state aid was not a factor.  It is, therefore, deeply regrettable that unelected bureaucrats in Brussels have effectively scuppered this important flight for Northern Ireland.”

Three days after the announcement, in the media at least, the story has died. But, away from the media glare, there is a lot of anger and a determination to get another transatlantic route in place.

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