A thrilling new flight links us to the glories of Belfast

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It’s one of those planes where the pilot stows bags in the hold, pulls the door up and gives the safety talk.

Passengers might be asked to redistribute themselves around the 19-seat cabin, presumably for balance, before watching through the cockpit door as he starts the engines (it involves pressing two buttons in the roof for about 15 seconds).

Paul McMahon of Belfast Chamber

Paul McMahon of Belfast Chamber

The informality of flying in a twin-prop Learjet on the new LinksAir route from Doncaster to Belfast will be a breath of fresh air to those sick of the crowds-and-conveyor-belts jumbo jet experience.

In that sense, it’s the perfect plane for pioneers of business prepared to ignore preconceptions and discover a place for themselves.

What follows is a thrilling, relatively low level 1hr 10m flight across northern England and the Irish Sea to the beautiful coastal city of Belfast.

On the approach, passengers enjoy views of park-set mansions by the sea, then the big box stores and business parks and finally the famous Titanic shipyards and two enormous yellow cranes, Samson and Goliath, bearing the letters H&W of Harland and Wolff.

The Falls Road, Belfast.

The Falls Road, Belfast.

We had our feet under the table at Remedy Cafe Bar on Fountain Street in the city centre within 20 minutes of leaving George Best airport – it really is that close.

The new service has been welcomed by the Northern Ireland government.

Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister Arlene Foster said: “The re-establishment of the air link between Belfast and Sheffield is great news for Northern Ireland.

“It not only strengthens our own access to the north of England and the east midlands, but also makes it easier for people to get to Northern Ireland for business or a holiday.

BELFAST, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 10:  An observation dome towers above the Victoria Square shopping development on April 10, 2008 in Belfast,  Northern Ireland. In the 10 years since the Good Friday Peace agreement Belfast has received more than ?5 billion in investment from the private and public sectors.  (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

BELFAST, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 10: An observation dome towers above the Victoria Square shopping development on April 10, 2008 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. In the 10 years since the Good Friday Peace agreement Belfast has received more than ?5 billion in investment from the private and public sectors. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

“Belfast City Airport transported over 2.5m passengers in 2013, making it one of the busiest years in their history, and I look forward to working with the airport and its airline partners as we welcome more visitors to the region throughout 2014,” she added.

LinksAir provides twenty-four flights a week between Doncaster Sheffield Airport and Belfast, with twice-daily services on all weekdays and Sundays.

The early morning flights allow business travellers to arrive into Northern Ireland before 9am, with an evening return to allow trips to take place in a day.

IT’S BUSINESS THAT’S BOOMING, NOT BOMBS

A view from inside the �90 million Titanic Belfast, of the  Harland and Wolff shipyard showing the Titanic drawing rooms (bottom), which has been built in the derelict ship yard where the ill fated liner was constructed a century earlier, almost 80,000 tickets have already been snapped up to tour the world's largest Titanic attraction when it opens in two weeks time. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday March 13, 2012. See PA story ULSTER Titanic. Photo credit should read: Paul Faith/PA Wire

A view from inside the �90 million Titanic Belfast, of the Harland and Wolff shipyard showing the Titanic drawing rooms (bottom), which has been built in the derelict ship yard where the ill fated liner was constructed a century earlier, almost 80,000 tickets have already been snapped up to tour the world's largest Titanic attraction when it opens in two weeks time. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday March 13, 2012. See PA story ULSTER Titanic. Photo credit should read: Paul Faith/PA Wire

It’s safe, welcoming, booming and easier to get to than London when the traffic is bad – forget everything you think you know about Belfast.

Busy playing catch-up since the end of the Troubles, the city is looking to the future with a growing confidence.

A high capacity fibre optic cable connected to the US and Europe has helped turn it into a telecommunications hub.

At the other end of the scale, 250-year-old business Whale Pumps of County Down has just been bought by US firm Brunswick Corporation. The legendary Harland and Wolff – which built hundreds of ships including the Titanic – is still going strong, but these days it also assembles oil rigs and offshore wind turbines.

French firm Thales has just won a £48m order for missiles from the Ministry of Defence, Bombardier makes aircraft components and fuselages in a hi-tech factory and pioneer of the low-floor bus, Wrightbus, is thriving.

A brief glance at the daily paper reveals that business is brisk.

Paul McMahon, president of Belfast Chamber, said the brain drain ‘to anywhere’ stopped about 10 years ago.

He added: “We would accept there’s still a lot of work to do to really develop entrepreneurialism. We are just about to get going, so many things are happening at once.

“Businesses are doing a lot of work to encourage Government, through the education sector, to develop people for the future. There are youngsters in education whose jobs haven’t been invented yet. The Northern Irish education is still one of the best in the UK.

“The universities are no longer silos, there is a lot more working together and integration with business. And they are ranked highly because of their focus on research and design, technology, pharmaceuticals and engineering.”

Tourism figures show Belfast has been transformed by the Good Friday Agreement which effectively ended the Troubles in 1998 – it is now worth £430m-a-year to the economy.

In 1999 there were 500,000 overnight visitors, in 2012 there were 2.2m, while daytrippers shot up from 1.5m to 7.9m-a-year, partly due to the cruise ships that pull in every day.

PEACE DEAL HAS TRANSFORMED BELFAST

But how safe is it? To people of a certain age Belfast is very familiar, even if they’ve never been.

Names like Falls Road, Shankill Road and Crumlin Road Jail were heard on the national news on a regular basis throughout the 1970s and 80s and almost always in connection with violence, sectarian strife and death.

There’s simply no getting away from it – and no one in Belfast tries to.

Today, the ‘political tour’ is one of its most popular tourist attractions. Down the Falls Road past a host of murals commemorating Catholic terrorists/freedom fighters such as Bobby Sands and on to Sinn Fein headquarters. It feels edgy even in bright sunlight, until the tour guide reveals there’s a gift shop inside.

Then across the 40ft Peace Wall, through gates that are still locked at night, into the Protestant area where they might be building a 100ft bonfire for July 12 and the start of marching season.

But all this appears to be confined to a small, residential section of the city. And the overriding impression is of a time that is being laid to rest. The growing number of tourists prove it, as do big retailers such as IKEA, Sainsbury’s, Decathlon and B&Q,

Tour guides point out the glass walls and windows now being incorporated into the front of court and Government buildings following more than a decade of peace.

And earlier this year the Giro d’Italia – the Italian equivalent of the Tour de France – held a stage in Belfast the same way as Yorkshire hosted le Tour – and just as successfully.

But the clincher is hit fantasy television show Game of Thrones which brings Hollywood magic to the city. It is shot in the former Titanic paint hall, an enormous space perfect for filming.

Owners HBO are said to have pumped £80m into the local economy. Cast and crew are set to return to film a fifth season – so it can’t be that dangerous.

Doncaster to Belfast:

n 24 flights a week, twice-daily services on weekdays and Sundays

n 1hr 10 minutes flying time

n 15 minutes drive from the airport to Belfast city centre

n £69 one way. Flights includes taxes & charges plus hold baggage to 15kg.

n No passport needed – a photo driving licence will do