Transport minister Shane Ross has been urged to intervene in the plight of Cork Airport after Norwegian Airlines’ decision to discontinue the hub’s only transatlantic service.
That decision was variously described as “disappointing”, “regrettable” and something that could see the airport “fall back on the progress it has made” by a number of vested interests.
Norwegian’s move, which came to light on Tuesday evening, was not unexpected given the direct service had been stopped since March on the back of the worldwide grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft on foot of safety concerns.
In pulling its routes from Cork, the airline would be costing the Munster region as much as €60 million according to Mary Considine, the acting chief executive at Shannon Airport.
Bringing the Scandinavian carrier to Cork in the summer of 2017 had been a coup long in gestation for local business and the airport itself, leading to marked consternation at the news.
Local Sinn Féin TD Donnchadh O’Laoghaire said he was “really disappointed and genuinely worried” at the decision. He called on Mr Ross to take direct action.
“I wouldn’t be the first to say that Shane Ross’ focus is very often on projects in the Dublin area, and that some in Cork are not getting the focus and attention that they deserve,” Mr O’Laoghaire said.
“Minister Ross needs to meet with Niall MacCarthy (managing director of the airport), and has to get right involved,” he added. “Otherwise the progress made could fall back a bit. People want to use Cork Airport, it’s a beautiful building, but the options and viability have to exist.”
Mr MacCarthy said further growth is expected next year on the airport’s short-haul portfolio, and as such it would be “redoubling” its efforts to secure a replacement transatlantic carrier from the summer of 2021.
“We are in active discussions with a number of carriers in this regard,” Mr MacCarthy said.
Mr O’Laoghaire said two years was too long to wait for a replacement.
“So much progress was made, and I commend the people who worked to bring this link in, but two years without that link would be very disappointing,” he said, adding that Cork Airport “needs far greater independence, and as much support as possible from the government and Dublin Airport in order to fix this”.
Conor Healy, chief executive of the Cork Chamber of Commerce said connectivity with New York in particular remains a strong priority for the city.
“Demand is undiminished and we’ll be working closely with Cork Airport to secure a replacement,” Mr Healy said.
Tourism Ireland, which markets Ireland overseas, described Norwegian’s move as “very regrettable”, with CEO Niall Gibbons vowing to work with Cork Airport to attract new carriers and services.
He said the body would be rolling out an extensive programme of promotional activity in the US and Canada over the coming months.
“As an island destination, direct, convenient and competitive access services are critical to achieving growth in inbound tourism,” he said.