Loganair has stepped forward to become the first airline to take up routes operated by collapsed airline Flybe, with two Belfast City Airport services included in the deal.
The Scottish group said it would operate both the Belfast-to-Aberdeen and Inverness-to-Belfast routes.
Loganair said it planned to take up 16 routes – from existing Loganair base airports at Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness and Newcastle – that were previously flown by Flybe, which has gone into administration.
The airline said this would add nearly 400 new flights a week to its schedule and it hoped to recruit former Flybe employees to join Loganair.
The decision by Loganair to take up two of the former Flybe routes from Belfast City Airport has been welcomed by business organisations and tourism bodies in the North.
But it still leaves a question mark over the future of the remaining 12 routes that the collapsed airline had operated, particularly to key regional destinations across the UK and international hubs such as Birmingham and Manchester.
Flybe accounted for about 80 per cent of all scheduled flights from Belfast City Airport.
Brian Ambrose, chief executive of Belfast City Airport, said while it was "extremely disappointed" about the collapse of Flybe, the organisation believed it could successfully secure replacement operators for the routes that were now without a carrier.
“Negotiations with a number of carriers are already under way,” Mr Ambrose said.
NI jobs threat
Union leaders in the North have warned that Flybe's sudden descent into administration could threaten up to 1,000 jobs in Northern Ireland.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Knock airport, from which Flybe had about 15 flights a week to Britain, said: “We regret the loss of Flybe, which has played an important role over the last 10 years in providing important access to the west of Ireland with flights to and from Birmingham, Edinburgh and Manchester, and our thoughts are with Flybe staff whose jobs have been affected by today’s news.”
He added that access to the northwest and midlands of England would continue to be provided by Ryanair through its year-round services to Liverpool and East-Midlands Nottingham.
A spokesman for Cork Airport, from which the airline operated a twice-weekly service to Cardiff, said the airport’s Cork-Bristol route operated by Aer Lingus Regional would serve the same catchment.
It is barely three months since the UK government previously stepped in with a rescue deal that only temporarily saved Flybe.
In January, when the airline was on the brink of collapse, the UK government agreed to defer a £106 million (€122 million) air passenger tax bill and got the airline's main shareholders, Virgin Atlantic and the Stobart Group, to pump more money into the business.
But as Flybe chief executive Mark Anderson outlined to staff on Thursday, that deal ultimately failed and the airline basically found itself out of runway when it came to future options.
"The coronavirus has impacted both our shareholders and ourselves and has put additional pressure on an already difficult situation. I am very sorry that we have not been able to secure the funding needed to continue to deliver our turnaround plan," Mr Anderson said.