Low-cost airline granted licence for Ireland-US flights
Norwegian Air’s permit win likely to prompt opposition from pilots’ unions and rivals
Norwegian Air: Unions claim the airline will use its Irish Air Operator’s Certificate as a flag of convenience to skirt labour laws and employ low-paid crew. Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
US authorities have granted a licence to Irish-based low-cost Norwegian Air International, paving the way for direct flights from Cork and Shannon to Boston.
Norwegian Air has been given permission to fly up to four times a week between Cork and Boston from next summer and there are hopes it could also have a direct connection to New York.
The decision paves the way for a major shake-up of transatlantic air travel, introducing the first Irish low-cost routes between Europe and the US.
Norwegian has been seeking a foreign carrier’s permit from Washington’s Department of Transportation for more than two years to support the launch of low-cost flights from Europe to the US.
Late last night the US department said that it would grant Norwegian the permit, which would allow the airline to launch proposed services from Cork and Shannon airports to Boston.
The US department’s delay in issuing the permit held up the launch of the services, which were originally scheduled to begin last April.
However, the announcement is likely to prompt opposition from unions and Norwegian’s rivals on both sides of the Atlantic, including the Irish Airline Pilots’ Association and the European Cockpit Association.
They claim that Norwegian is using its Irish Air Operator’s Certificate as a flag of convenience to skirt labour laws and employ low-paid crew on contracts issued by companies in Asia.
Norwegian has consistently denied this, but the protests are understood to be behind the delay in the US department issuing the licence.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny welcomed the announcement. Mr Kenny had lobbied US president Barack Obama on the issue when the two leaders met at their St Patrick’s Day meeting in the Oval Office in March.
He broke the news about the transportation department’s announcement at an event in the Irish consulate in New York last night.
“On the last occasion in the White House speaking to President Obama, we did raise the issue that has been around for a while in respect of the proposal by Norwegian Air to fly direct to America from Cork and Shannon and to do for long-haul travel what Ryanair has done for short-haul travel to Europe,” he said.
“I am pleased to tell you that following that conversation and all of the discussions that have taken place since approval has been issued today for Norwegian Air to do their work.”
To applause from the gathering of the Irish community in New York, Mr Kenny added: “And so at a time of uncertainty and some fragility about lots of things, there is still a beautiful world out there.”
The decision came after the European Commission formally filed for arbitration on Norwegian Air’s request, for which they had been waiting for approval for two years.
Norwegian Air had sought to launch the low-cost transatlantic service connecting using Irish-registered and regulated subsidiary.
The decision to grant the licence was welcomed by the managing director of Cork Airport Niall MacCarthy who said the decision by the US department is a “game changer” for Cork and a major boost for Irish tourism.
“This is momentous news for air travellers on both sides of the Atlantic. It’s great news for Open Skies and for consumer choice and competition. I firmly believe this will permanently transform the transatlantic market in Ireland and further afield for the better. Norwegian will do for transatlantic travel what Ryanair has done for European travel, bringing lower fares, increased competition and growth to the overall market,” he said.
“There has been a tremendous amount of work undertaken to secure this route on both sides of the Atlantic and we must acknowledge the huge support received from political, business and local government stakeholders in Ireland, the EU and US. The final stages of the process have seen a significant contribution and support from the public too and I want to thank everyone who helped make this happen.
The news was also welcomed by Minister for Transport Shane Ross.
“This is good news for consumers on both sides of the Atlantic, and I now look forward to NAI confirming its plans for the new services it announced last year. The launch of those services, bringing additional capacity and the direct transatlantic connectivity into the region, will be a boost for Cork Airport and for Cork business and tourism, and I am sure that the services will be well supported by the people in Cork and the wider catchment area,” he said.