Passengers booked to fly from Cork to the US east coast in two weeks’ time face an anxious wait as Norwegian Air International scrambles to replace its grounded Boeing 737 Max aircraft.
The flights are due to return for the summer schedule in April, but the crisis engulfing US plane manufacturer Boeing has put the Cork bookings in jeopardy.
Norwegian said it was “still too early to say” whether the Cork flights to TF Green Airport in Providence, Rhode Island would return before April while the Boeing 737 Max is grounded by aviation authorities around the world.
The 737 Max, which is used on the Cork-Providence route, was grounded following the second fatal crash in five months involving the new Boeing aircraft.
Some 157 passengers and crew died in an Ethiopian Airlines crash on March 10, while a Lion Air plunged into the Java Sea off Indonesia shortly after takeoff last October, killing 189 people.
Intensive investigations are underway to establish why the two aircraft came down, with authorities focusing in on Boeing’s anti-stall software in the 737 Max, among other factors.
There are 5,000 orders of 737 Max aircraft from airlines around the world worth around €600bn, with Norwegian already taking charge of 18. The low-cost, long-haul airline is now using a different Boeing model to carry Dublin passengers to the US, but has briefed Cork Airport that it is trying to source different aircraft to fill in for the 737 Max.
Analysts estimate the crisis is costing Norwegian, already under pressure following a spending splurge in recent years, up to €1.5m a day.
A spokesperson for Cork Airport said it is in regular contact with Norwegian which is “currently attempting to optimise its fleet and source alternative aircraft for its busy summer season ahead, including the Cork-Providence service, which is just two weeks away”.
Visitors to Norwegian’s website trying to book flights from Cork for April are instructed that they are all sold out, while return flights from May are being priced at €649.
A Norwegian spokesman said:
The website appears that way because we are temporarily withholding further sales of all routes operated by the 737 Max to ensure we can meet our customers’ expectations in light of the suspended operations of this aircraft.
The flights became the first ever direct transatlantic route from Cork in July 2017, following a prolonged campaign from Irish business and political figures for Norwegian to be granted a US licence. It included then Taoiseach Enda Kenny directly lobbying President Barack Obama.