Norwegian Air flights from Cork and Shannon to the US east coast are now unlikely to return for the entire summer schedule, an MEP has claimed, as the firm admitted it is unlikely to return to profitability this year.
Ireland South MEP Deirdre Clune said briefings received by her office suggested evaluations of the grounded 737 Max aircrafts would take an international commission 90 days to complete, after starting before the end of this month.
Norwegian, which has 18 737 Max jets in its fleet, uses the aircraft on the Cork and Shannon routes to Providence, Rhode Island.
Following the worldwide grounding of the 737 Max after two fatal crashes in five months, Norwegian instead this month began bussing would-be passengers from Cork and Shannon to Dublin, from where they then flew to the US.
It was initially hoped the situation would last only a few weeks before the schedule from Cork and Shannon was restored, but the airline has said it will continue as the 737 Max is grounded.
Passengers cannot book flights on Norwegian’s website from Cork and Shannon before September 17.
In a reply to Ms Clune, founder and chief executive of Norwegian, Bjorn Kjos, said his “regret at the inconvenience to our passengers from and to Ireland is therefore the greater” because of the Irish political and business support the airline received as it attempted to secure a transatlantic licence from US authorities.
“I remain personally deeply appreciative of the support received from yourself and the Irish community for our application to the US Department of Transport for a foreign operator permit for Norwegian Air International... Please be assured of our continued commitment to ensure that any inconvenience to them is kept to an unavoidable minimum,” said Mr Kjos.
The briefings received by Ms Clune’s office said an international committee, composed of nine aviation regulators including the US Federal Aviation Administration and the European Aviation Safety Agency, will start its joint examination of the Boeing 737 Max safety update by April 29.
It is estimated that evaluating the modifications of the 737 Max should take about 90 days, said the reports.
Ms Clune said while measures taken by Norwegian are necessary to ensure the safety of passengers, those travelling on transatlantic flights from Cork and Shannon airports must be taken care of while the flights are not in operation.
“These flights are very important for Cork Airport in particular, and I hope to see them back to their regular schedule once all the safety checks have been completed,” said Ms Clune.
The toll taken so far by the Boeing crisis on Norwegian was laid bare as the firm said it may not return to profitability this year.
“Due to the uncertainty related to the Max grounding, the company sees increased risk related to the target of a positive net profit in 2019,” said Norwegian.
“Norwegian’s key priority is returning to profitability through a series of measures, including an extensive cost reduction programme, an optimised route portfolio, and sale of aircraft,” it said, as it estimated the 737 Max grounding would cost an additional €51.8m.
Mr Kjos said “demand for travelling with Norwegian has been satisfactory entering the second quarter of 2019”.