By Pádraig Hoare
Cork will have more transatlantic flights to US destinations like New York in the future as more efficient aircraft become prevalent, according to Fáilte Ireland’s chairman.
Former Ryanair deputy CEO and current chairman of the tourism authority, Michael Cawley, said Norwegian Air International’s suspension of its winter schedule to Providence, Rhode Island was a “temporary blip” for Cork Airport.
Mr Cawley was speaking as it emerged Aer Lingus owner IAG was not ruling out a bid for Norwegian after buying 4.6% of its shares.
Norwegian shares soared more than 47% upon the speculation.
Norwegian said it was suspending the Cork-Providence route from this November with a view to returning for the summer schedule of 2019. It also scaled back flights to Providence from Shannon, Edinburgh, and Bergen in Norway.
The suspension was met with anger from Irish political and business leaders, who accused Norwegian of using Cork’s first ever transatlantic flights as bait to gain a licence from the US Department of Transport.
Norwegian was finally given the go-ahead after a protracted battle with bipartisan political opposition in the US.
Stakeholders from Cork were credited by the airline as providing a persuasive argument for the granting of a licence.
Mr Cawley said Norwegian’s suspension of winter flights was a “temporary blip” for Cork Airport and that the suspension was due to the airline’s own fragility rather than Cork.
“They are about a third the size of Ryanair in volume terms but 3% of Ryanair’s value. They are extremely fragile so they are making decisions that are not necessarily reflective of the destinations, but decisions for the short-term. With the advent of single-aisle aircraft that can fly across the Atlantic, Cork will get its share over time of transatlantic on a more solid basis. It is a temporary blip,” he said.
The new Airbus A321Neo aircraft have been predicted by aviation experts to give a new lease of life to smaller airports like Cork because of their longer and more efficient range with less fuel used.
Airbus currently has over 6,000 orders for A320Neo aircraft and almost 2,000 of the related A321Neo so far.
Insiders have said Cork will see more airlines fly transatlantic once the Airbus aircraft become mainstream. Norwegian has used Boeing aircraft for its transatlantic flights.
Norwegian said it was unaware that IAG had bought shares in the company until the Aer Lingus and British Airways owner announced it publicly.
A spokesman for Norwegian said: “Norwegian has not been in any discussions or dialogue with IAG about the matter. Norwegian believes that IAG’s interest in the company confirms the sustainability and potential of our business model and global growth.”
IAG said it considered Norwegian as an “attractive investment” and said it may bid for it in the future.
“The minority investment is intended to establish a position from which to initiate discussions with Norwegian, including the possibility of a full offer for Norwegian,” it said.
“IAG confirms that no such discussions have taken place to date, that it has taken no decision to make an offer at this time and that there is no certainty that any such decision will be made.”