The British government have confirmed that they are to provide support to City of Derry Airport to keep a “vital air link” to London open.
The UK government has now officially signalled that it could step in to support financially the Derry to London air route following the recent announcement by current operator Ryanair to stop its Stansted route at the end of March 2017.
The intervention of central government could result in the first ever UK government backing for a public service obligation (PSO) in Northern Ireland.
Derry City & Strabane Council have now been invited to put forward proposals to keep the route open, with a “value for money check to ensure the best outcome for taxpayers”.
Officials from the Department of Transport in London said this would be a further boost for the region following the announcement this week that the Northern Ireland Executive will provide up to £7 million support to assist development and growth around City of Derry Airport.
The officials also said that the route is a significant link for local businesses and the tourism industry, providing a connection with London which benefits the wider region.
Derry & Strabane Council can now undertake a tender process to appoint an airline to maintain the operation of this route, which is used by more than 125,000 people a year, with support from the UK government.
Minister for Aviation Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon said: “Our airports are vital in supporting local economies, providing connections in the UK and opening up new opportunities.
“That is why the UK government has agreed in principle to support the air route between City of Derry Airport and London.
“In terms of process, it is important that Derry City & Strabane District Council take forward the tender process to secure this route.”
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire said: “This is good news for travellers in the north-west and the wider regional economy. Having talked to local business leaders I know the air link with London plays a vital role.
“I am pleased the UK government has been able to step in to help, as part of our commitment to build a Northern Ireland that works for everyone.
“The backing for a service could mark the first ever UK government backing for a public service obligation (PSO) in Northern Ireland.
“The government maintains regional airport links through the Regional Air Connectivity Fund, which can be used to protect important regional air connections where they may be at risk of being lost.”
Sinn Féin Foyle MLA Martin McGuinness welcomed the confirmation.
Martin McGuinness said: “This is more good news for the airport and comes just a day after the Executive confirmed a £7m package to secure the future of City of Derry airport.
“I met with the Secretary of State James Brokenshire yesterday and impressed on him the importance of a PSO in terms of economic development and connectivity for the entire north west reaction.
“This is crucial, particularly in light of Ryanair’s decision to scrap its Derry to London service.
“Therefore, I greatly welcome today’s announcement that the London Government is prepared to support the PSO.
“Effectively that means they will subsidise the cost of the route, making it a very attractive proposition to many airline carriers.”
Mr McGuinness said he was also lobbying the Dublin Government to put in place a similar arrangement for a Derry to Dublin flight. “I believe there is a compelling case to be made in that case also,” he said.
“We could very easily have been facing the potential closure of the airport as a result of Ryanair’s decision to scale down its services.
“However, swift intervention from the Executive and now the London Government has transformed the situation and the future looks much brighter for the airport with the prospect of more flights, more jobs and more opportunities.”