Belfast to host Routes Europe conference in 2017
More than 100 airlines will be represented at a major conference on air routes to be staged in Belfast.
Organisers say the city can expect 1,200 delegates when it hosts Routes Europe in early 2017.
The conference is an annual event, drawing together scores of airports and tourism authorities.
"It is not just any old conference," Northern Ireland Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said.
"Any city which has held it comes out the other side with more routes."
Northern Ireland's three airports have found it tough opening up new markets, particularly against the growth of Dublin Airport.
NI airports have complained that airlines see air passenger duty (APD) as a block to new routes, such as Germany.
Mrs Foster is currently against devolving the power over all APD to Stormont, meaning if it implemented a cut it would have to refund the Treasury for a loss of the tax revenue.
A recent study put this figure at £55m annually.
The Northern Ireland Executive could establish an air route development fund to attract certain routes and airlines.
"I am hoping that will come about soon," she said.
Both Belfast International and George Best Belfast City airports welcomed news that the conference is coming to Northern Ireland.
It was held in Aberdeen this year and in 2016 it will be staged in Krakow. The Belfast event will be held at a revamped Waterfront Hall.