A decision by Virgin Atlantic to double the number of flights from Northern Ireland to Orlando next summer has been hailed as vote of confidence in the local market.

Two flights a week will run in June and July next year from Belfast international airport, bringing the total number up to eight over the 2017 summer peak.

The increase will see more than 3,500 holidaymakers from Northern Ireland fly to Florida

Virgin Atlantic started its summer-only direct service to Orlando from Belfast yesterday with four flights running over the next four weeks.

Airport business development director, Uel Hoey, said: “There was enormous excitement around the debut of nonstop flights last year from Belfast with Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Holidays and the weight of demand has exceeded all preliminary expectations.

“The international airport is delighted that Virgin has taken this decision, which is a real vote of confidence in the Northern Ireland market.

“There is strong business here for a combination of quality airline service and an unwaveringly popular leisure destination, as is evident through both customer uptake and feedback from research.

“The return of the Virgin Atlantic 747-400 which can carry 440 passengers, on a greater scale than before, is most welcome. We are experiencing solid double-digit growth in passenger numbers and, alongside our other airlines, Virgin Atlantic is helping to drive that business.

“Hundreds of new jobs have been created and many more will follow as we continue to expand our base in the second half of this year and next.”