By Sean O’Riordan and Pádraig Hoare
Low-cost, long-haul airline Norwegian could face two inquiries into its decision to cancel winter flights from Cork and Shannon Airports to the US, just nine months after launching a year-round service.
It comes as the airline failed to guarantee the flights from Cork would return for the 2019 summer schedule, only saying it was “working to maintain” them.
Chief executive of Norwegian Bjørn Kjos must appear before the Oireachtas Transport Committee to explain why the airline scaled back the flights so soon, according to the leader of the Seanad.
Cork senator Jerry Buttimer said Mr Kjos and the head of the Dublin Airport Authority, Dalton Phillips, should be asked to appear before the committee.
“Norwegian’s response has been very disappointing. When it was looking for support to gain a US licence, it was stakeholders in Cork that did all the heavy lifting. What Cork did, politically and commercially, to help Norwegian, it deserves better,” he said.
Mr Buttimer said the DAA boss must now outline concrete plans for Cork Airport.
— Jerry Buttimer (@jerrybuttimer) April 4, 2018
He called for a permanent, IDA-style body to be set up in the US east coast to attract tourism to various regions, including Cork.
Separately, there have been calls for an inquiry into Norwegian’s decision, according to the TD who a year ago claimed the introduction of flights from Cork to Providence in Rhode Island was “a Trojan horse”, which would ultimately benefit Dublin Airport.
Labour TD Alan Kelly said he wants an inquiry into the “debacle” of the suspension of the flights, which carried 17,000 passengers last year between Cork and Providence, of which two thirds were inbound.
“A little over 12 months ago when, amid much fanfare in Cork, Norwegian announced its new Irish services, I warned that this was a Trojan horse for Dublin Airport and, regrettably, so it has proved,” said Mr Kelly.
“The Taoiseach welcomed it, Minister Simon Coveney welcomed it, every Government politician welcomed it, but it is now shown to be a complete stitch-up for Dublin.
Norwegian is stopping its winter flights between Cork and Boston/Providence from next October to March 2019, because of lower-than-anticipated demand. It also announced it was axing its Shannon and Edinburgh flights to Providence, but is retaining its Dublin services.
Norwegian did not guarantee Cork flights would return for the summer schedule.
A Norwegian spokesperson said: “We commend Cork Airport and the local authorities for their support in helping to get our much-needed transatlantic flights from Ireland off the ground.
“We launched Cork Airport’s first ever transatlantic routes to the US east coast and we are working to maintain these flights in the summer, when demand is higher and more profitable.”
Before the airline got its transatlantic licence, it promised to operate flights out of Cork to Boston and New York. When the licence was granted, it also launched flights out of Shannon and Dublin, with the latter getting the lion’s share of services. The Cork-New York route never materialised.
Norwegian said it was “fully committed” to its Irish routes last month, after confirming it would post larger-than-expected losses for the current quarter. The company said it had raised €136.8m in a share sale to help fund its expansion and cope with higher fuel costs.
Mr Kjos was “not at all satisfied” after the firm swung to a net loss of €94.5m from a year-ago profit of €20.25m.
Meanwhile, Aer Lingus said it will begin a new year-round service from Cork to Lisbon, starting in October.