MEP urges arbitration to force decision on US flights from Cork Airport

An Irish MEP has urged the European Commission to trigger legal arbitration against the US authorities in a bid to break the deadlock stalling the launch of transatlantic flights from Cork Airport, writes Eoin English.

Almost three months after the US Department of Transportation (DoT) granted tentative approval to Norwegian Air International’s (NAI) foreign carrier permit application, there is still no sign of a final decision.

The airline, an Irish subsidiary of low-fares giant, Norwegian, wants to launch a Cork-to-Boston service this year, followed by a New York service next year.

It cannot announce schedules or start selling tickets until US transport secretary Anthony Foxx signs off on its permit. Last month, the US authorities decided to further delay a similar application from Norwegian Air UK (NAUK) to fly to the US.

Ireland South MEP Deirdre Clune said the time has come for EU transport commissioner Violetta Bulc to ramp up the political pressure and end the impasse threatening the future of NAI’s flights from Ireland.

Deirdre Clune
Deirdre Clune

“It is now clear that there is no timeframe within which the US Transport Secretary has to make a decision,” said Ms Clune. “The nicely, nicely approach, and waiting for Mr Foxx to make a decision isn’t working. It’s just drifting and drifting. I am hoping now that the commission would move to arbitration.”

Arbitration would trigger a complex resolution process but could see a final decision made within four months.

Ms Clune said NAI’s application has been found by the US DoT to satisfy the EU-US Open Skies Agreement.

Despite US and EU union opposition, she said, NAI has been certified by the Irish Aviation Authority from a safety perspective and in relation to its terms of employment.

“Competition in the aviation sector has, over the last 30 years, reduced fares for consumers and provided more services,” said Ms Clune. “It’s been very good for everybody. The Norwegian application stacks up.”

She said she has asked the European Commission to immediately exhaust all avenues, including legal arbitration, to put political pressure on the US authorities to grant NAI’s licence.

Norwegian Air plane
Norwegian Air plane

“If we need to move into arbitration, then so be it,” said Ms Clune. “We need a decision and political events in the US seem to be stalling such a decision as opposition mounts from US unions and established airlines who are unwilling to accept new competition in the marketplace.”

Anna-Kaisa Itkonen, European Commission spokeswoman for transport, told the Irish Examiner yesterday that the commission works to ensure that EU-level aviation agreements are fully respected and that EU companies are not subjected to unfair treatment.

“That is why the Commission informed the US authorities that they are in breach of the EU-US Air Transport Agreement, regarding the requests of NAI and NAUK to fly to the US,” she said. “The commission expects the US authorities to take a final decision on both requests without further delay.

“Currently, the commission is considering all available options under the agreement to ensure that a decision is taken swiftly.”

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