Norwegian Air International said it sold more than 5,000 flights within hours of announcing services to the US from Irish airports on Thursday.
The airline will fly 24 times a week from Belfast, Cork, Dublin and Shannon to the northeastern US from July to October, when it will cut the frequency of its services for winter.
A spokesman said that it sold more than 5,000 flights within six hours of announcing details of flights from the Republic’s three State-owned airports at 11am on Thursday. “We think that it was our fastest launch sale ever,” he added.
Norwegian will provide Cork Airport's first-ever transatlantic service, with three flights a week to Providence, Rhode Island. It will cut this to twice weekly next winter.
The airline confirmed plans to offer daily flights from Dublin to Stewart International Airport in New York state in summer and three times a week in winter.
It will fly five times a week from the capital to Providence from July, dropping this twice weekly from October.
Shannon will get twice weekly flights to both airports. Norwegian will serve Belfast International Airport five times a week, with three services to Stewart and two to Providence.
News that Dublin is to get the lion’s share of the services came as a surprise this week, as the airline originally said it wanted to launch routes from Cork and Shannon, but its spokesman stressed that it had always intended flying from Dublin and Belfast.
The airline’s campaign to win approval from the US authorities for a foreign carrier’s permit garnered widespread political and business group support on the basis that it planned to launch Cork’s first transatlantic services.
Norwegian's chief executive, Bjorn Kjos, acknowledged that the new routes would not have been possible without Irish support. "We are hugely grateful for this continued support and are delighted to finally unveil our plans," he said.
Aviation unions and airlines opposed Norwegian’s application saying that it intended hiring crew on contracts issued by Asian companies, allowing it to avoid EU and US labour protections.
However, Norwegian said that it employed staff under either US or EU law, depending on their base.
Niall McCarthy, managing director at Cork Airport, said it had been a long and challenging journey to secure the services and the licences necessary to commence a transatlantic route.
The Irish-registered airline's parent, Norwegian Air Shuttle, plans to use it to offer low-cost services between Europe, the US and Asia. It is buying 100 Boeing 737 Max aircraft for this.
TF Green International Airport in Providence is 112 km from Boston, while Stewart is 96 km from New York city. Norwegian says it uses to secondary airports to help keep fares low.
It announced the plans at Cork Airport on Thursday. Some of its July flights were available at the advertised €69 one-way fares shortly after this but the cheapest seats sold early.
The Minister for Housing Simon Coveney described the launch of transatlantic flights from Cork as momentous.
“There has been a real unified effort to try and find airline partners who would take a risk on this route and make it happen,” he said.
Niall Gibbons, chief executive of Tourism Ireland, said the authority is committed to drive for the new flights.
“As an island, the importance of convenient, direct, non-stop flights cannot be overstated,” he said
Norwegian flies 30 million passengers a-year to more than 140 destinations.