Belfast International airport has hailed the announcement by Virgin that it is to start an Orlando service next summer as “a massive breakthrough” for Northern Ireland.
The global airline will fly in June and July to the sunshine State using a 747-400 capable of carrying 455 passengers.
Uel Hoey, Belfast International Airport Director, said the airport has been having conversations with Virgin for three years and this news is the outworking of that engagement.
“Virgin has a reputation that is second to none with a quality product and level of service on long-haul routes that others cannot match,” Mr Hoey said.
He added: “We are delighted with this decision which is not only a vote of confidence in Belfast International Airport but Northern Ireland.
“From June next year, we will be the only airport on the island to accommodate a Virgin service and that is something we are particularly pleased about.”
Mr Hoey said BIA hoped to replicate the successful Virgin Atlantic service at Glasgow Airport, which started with a handful Orlando flights but within five years, it had developed their programme to over 50 summer flights.
“I have every confidence that the same can be achieved here,” Mr Hoey said.
He added: “This is one of the most exciting announcements we have had at Belfast International in recent years.
“We are delighted that an airline with the status and reputation of Virgin has decided to expand its network by putting the entire island of Ireland on its ‘radar’.
“Virgin has an enviable global brand and this announcement represents a massive breakthrough for Northern Ireland. It’s also a welcome boost for our efforts to attract new international carriers and to continue to expand domestic services.”
ABTA director, Doreen McKenzie, says Northern Ireland is the clear winner with the arrival into the market next summer of Virgin Atlantic.
“Once the airline sees what the level of demand is like, I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised if it decided to increase frequency, and perhaps look at other long-haul holiday destinations as well,” Mrs McKenzie siad.
She added: “Virgin is a most welcome addition to the list of quality operators serving the Northern Ireland market, and those who lobbied to make this happen deserve great credit.”
South Antrim MP William McCrea described the announcement as “an encouraging and welcome boost to the local tourism industry”,
“This is a significant boost for local air travel and I wholeheartedly commend BIA on their efforts in sourcing and securing this new opportunity for Northern Ireland holidaymakers especially with a market leader like Virgin Atlantic,” Mr McCrea said.
He added: “This announcement shows that BIA has been firmly placed on the map in terms of being able to deliver international travel opportunities, and I trust that this announcement will encourage not only Virgin Atlantic but indeed other major airlines to look at route expansion and to tap into the local tourism market.
“I have no doubt that this new service will experience high demand and open up new and exciting international travel destinations.
“The owners and management of BIA have worked tirelessly in recent years to open up new markets and attract inward investment and I am delighted that their efforts are continuing to pay dividends.”