THREE new routes are starting from Teesside Airport amid a “challenging” regional market.

Eastern Airline is starting its flights to Dublin, Belfast and Southampton.

The new flights are in addition to ones it previously operated for Flybe, which it will continue to run following the airline’s collapse last week.

Roger Hage, general manager of Eastern Airways, said: “It’s tremendous to have new flights running today. We thought about it last week but we are an established operator and people know who we are.

"The flights are not going to be busy this week but we thought it was better than leaving it for three weeks."

Flights across the UK were cancelled last week after Flybe's collapse.

Though Teesside was unaffected, with Eastern continuing to do the flights it had previously operated for Flybe, about half of passengers did not turn up to the airport.

Mr Hage said: "We were running those flights for free but it was more important to do that because we want to carry on with those flights ourselves. We didn’t want everything to stop because then people think it has stopped for good."

"The message has been than flights are on sale and can be booked from our website.

“In the case of Teesside, all the bookings will be honoured and we will book them onto a new service. From a Teesside perspective that’s fantastic."

He added: "It’s very challenging. Flybe was the biggest regional airline in Europe. It’s only about a year since Flybmi collapsed.

“The difficulty is regional services have smaller aircrafts. They still have the high costs but they fly lower numbers and there’s the pressure from people wanting low prices. At times it’s not profitable.

“But it’s really important for regional connectivity. It’s vital for regional identity.

“I’m really, really positive about Teesside. Nobody is sitting back, people want to develop it and are going out to shout about it. It’s not high capacity but it’s connecting to places it hasn’t in many years, which is exciting.”

Flights to London City start on April 27, followed by seasonal services to Alicante and the Isle of Man to complement the existing Aberdeen and Cardiff routes.

As a result Eastern Airways will have added eleven new routes in two months to help significantly restore UK connectivity.