Major airline event in Belfast raises new flight hopes

By Julian O'Neill
BBC News NI Business Correspondent

Image caption,
In 2016, a record 7.8m passengers used Northern Ireland's airports

A major conference involving the airline industry is being held in Belfast, with Northern Ireland airports hoping to secure new flights.

Around 1,200 people are attending Routes Europe at the Waterfront Hall. The conference is held annually in different cities.

The three-day event begins on Sunday and brings together airline executives.

The organisers believe it is "a brilliant opportunity" to showcase the Northern Ireland tourism sector.

It is seen as having the potential to expand air connectivity - previous host cities report several new routes were agreed as a result of holding the event.

Ryanair, easyJet, Lufthansa, Air France and British Airways are among the many airlines taking part.

In 2016, a record 7.8m passengers used Northern Ireland's airports.

Growth has largely been driven by Ryanair who began operating from Belfast International last year.

But expansion of long-haul routes has been challenging against the dominance of Dublin Airport.

Around £1m is being spent hosting Routes Europe, with about half the money coming through Invest NI.

It is particularly keen to secure routes to a number of key European business hubs like Frankfurt.

Steven Small, brand director of Routes, said: "Northern Ireland is a business and tourism destination on the rise.

"The demand for travel is increasing so there are significant route development opportunities for Europe's airlines."