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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 September, 2004, 06:25 GMT 07:25 UK
Belfast-NY flights plan
Continental Airlines
Continental Airlines has agreed in principle to the plan

An American airline has agreed in principle to start a regular direct service from Belfast to New York.

Final details are still being worked out, but a formal announcement that Continental Airlines will fly the route is expected in the next few weeks.

Flights are due to start operating from next year.

BBC Northern Ireland's business editor, James Kerr, said it was a "badly kept secret" that management at Belfast International and Continental have been in talks for months.

The hope is for a daily service to New York's second international airport at Newark International Airport in New Jersey.

However, one of the concerns has been whether the market would sustain a non-stop flight every day right through the slackest period of mid-winter.

The service will receive start-up grant aid from the government's air route development fund.

It has also played a part in some of the other international routes that have come on stream in recent months.

European air routes

There are now seven such scheduled destinations from Belfast International - with only a limited number of further routes that are likely to prove viable.

Continental Airlines operates daily flights from Edinburgh to New York.

It also operates a direct route from Dublin to New York.

In September 2001, Irish airline Aer Lingus dropped the Belfast/Shannon leg of its New York service from Belfast International Airport.

The airline said the move was part of a cost cutting programme following the terrorist attacks in America earlier that month.

In March this year, four new direct European air routes out of Belfast were announced.

BBC NI's James Kerr:
"The service will receive start-up grant aid from the government's air route development fund"

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