The naysayers are wrong, according to founder and chief executive of Norwegian Air Bjorn Kjos.
It is possible to make low-fare journeys from Europe to the US commercially viable, smaller airports are the future for passengers, and Cork is strategically one of the most important airports in Norwegian’s plans, he insists.
Despite the disappointing confirmation that Cork to Stewart International Airport in New York is currently not viable for its mooted 2018 takeoff, Mr Kjos says the airline has not totally given up on the idea.
Meanwhile, he says, it is in the hands of Cork people to make their first transatlantic flight to TF Green Airport in Providence, Rhode Island, this summer a surefire success.
He categorically rejects the notion that Cork was used as a sentimental pawn in Norwegian’s campaign to get a licence to fly from Ireland to the US.
Critics said Cork did all the running and campaigning, even enlisting Taoiseach Enda Kenny to lobby then-US president Barack Obama directly, yet received just three flights, while Dublin, Belfast, and even Shannon did considerably better. What does Mr Kjos say to the people of Cork who feel aggrieved?
“Cork was one of the first cities I ever looked at because a lot of people in the New York area originate from this area. It is a lot of Irish-Americans who have very close ties with that part of Ireland. It was no coincidence.
"We could have flown everything out of Dublin. I would reject that criticism because we are looking at catchment areas. We are looking at areas close to the Atlantic. Cork met that criteria and so did Shannon. Dublin is a large catchment area. We actually looked first at the cities outside Dublin,” he said.
Cork to Providence is vital to Norwegian, he said. Far from being the poor relation, he says Norwegian will provide more flights than the three weekly in the summer if the demand is there. It is the winter schedule that Cork people need to get behind, he adds.
“This route will do very well. Obviously it will do fine in the summertime but the question is whether it is possible to fly it year-round. We haven’t looked at that yet, we have to look at the bookings. The passengers will always decide the number of flights. If we have enough passengers to fly daily, then we will fly daily.
"These people really deserve it. We could never have done this without fantastic support from people like IAA chief executive Eamonn Brennan, the Taoiseach, three transport ministers, and not least the people in Cork Airport. They have done an incredible job. Everyone supported us,” he said.
Donald Trump’s presidency is already impacting Ireland and especially the people of Cork. Norwegian is compelled to use American-made Boeing aircraft for its US routes to keep on good terms with the Trump administration.
The Boeing 737MAX aircraft is not able to make it to New York from Cork as Cork’s short runway, by international standards, means it can only carry so much fuel. European maker Airbus claims its anticipated A321Neo aircraft will make further journeys with less fuel.
Cork Airport insiders insist a Cork-NYC flight will happen sooner rather than later with the Neo, whomever the carrier is. In the meantime, Norwegian has to play ball with the White House.
“Mr Trump wants American jobs and we are flying Boeing aircraft. We’re setting up a lot of American jobs and also a lot of bases. So we are doing exactly what the president wants,” says Mr Kjos.
Smaller airports are much more attractive, insists Mr Kjos. Far from the hustle and bustle of JFK in New York, O’Hare in Chicago, or Logan in Boston, airports like TF Green will be far more appreciated by Cork passengers, he says.
“Providence is near Cape Cod, it is probably one of the most beautiful areas in the US. You have a lot of people living there and you can reach Boston easily. It is a very good start at the beginning of your vacation. It is very expensive to fly into New York, and very difficult to get slots. That was the main reason we picked TF Green because you can fly much cheaper. You cannot do €69 fares at JFK,” he said.
Bringing in US visitors to Cork is just as vital to make it viable year-round, he adds.
“As a general rule, it is a lot of Americans that book with us. They fly to Ireland. More than 50% are booked from the US. Providence has 4m people in the catchment. It is fairly huge. The bookings have been very good actually. They have exceeded expectations. Now it is more to see if it is possible to fly on a year-round basis,” he said.
If Boeing’s testing of its new 737MAX aircraft exceeds expectations, Cork to New York will be back on for 2018, he says.
“As it looks with the figures we have so far, it’s a little bit too far. But the first prototypes Boeing produce are normally heavier than the actual production. So normally the aircraft they can fly better. We have to see the performance of the aircraft — is it doable with that type of aircraft. If Cork to New York is possible, we will do it.”