Management at Cork Airport hope to have their first transatlantic routes — to Boston and New York — off the ground by summer.
Talks over the weekend between airport bosses and Norwegian Air International (NAI) explored the possibility of fast-tracking the launch of the New York route following the permit breakthrough on Friday night.
Tickets could go on sale by March in the hope that the Boston service at least, and possibly the New York route too, could take off by June.
The low-fares services are likely to spark a transatlantic price war, and transform Cork Airport’s fortunes.
NAI has also announced plans to offer flights from Shannon.
However, there are some concerns that the US Department of Transportation’s (DoT) groundbreaking decision on Friday to grant a foreign carrier permit to NAI — the Irish subsidiary of low-fares giant Norwegian, clearing it to fly between Ireland and the US — could still be blocked by the US president.
DoT documents seen by the Irish Examiner state that unless “disapproved by the president of the United States”, the DoT’s order to grant the permit will become effective within 61 days — at which point Donal Trump will be president.
Political sources in Washington said it’s hard to predict how the process will unfold over the coming weeks — given the transition between the Obama and Trump administrations.
Cork Airport managing director, Niall MacCarthy, said they remain confident of a positive outcome.
It follows the DoT’s surprise decision on Friday — just two days after the European Commission triggered arbitration — to finally grant a permit to NAI to fly between Ireland and the US almost three years after it applied.
The airline faced intense opposition from several US and European airlines and labour unions, who expressed concerns about its labour model, and accused it of operating a flag of convenience to skirt labour laws.
However, NAI, the Irish authorities and the European Commission insisted that the application complied with the 2007 EU-US Open Skies deal.
The DoT announced tentative approval for the permit last April but then stalled on a final decision.
It finally published it on Friday, describing the case as among the most novel and complex it had ever investigated.
But having considered all the submissions, it said it found that the “clear weight of legal analysis in this case directs us to uphold the tentative findings and conclusions previously made”.
“We have taken the necessary amount of time to review and consider the comments from a wider range of stakeholders,” it said.
“Regardless of our appreciation of the public policy arguments raised by opponents, we have been advised that the law and our bilateral obligations leave us no avenue to reject this application.
“Therefore, we have decided to finalise our tentative decision to grant NAI’s request for a foreign carrier air permit to enable it to conduct scheduled and charter air transportation of persons, property and mail to the full extent permitted under the EU-US agreement.’
Mr MacCarthy described the “momentous” decision as a game-changer for transatlantic travel from Ireland, and for Cork Airport in particular, where securing direct routes to the US has been a strategic goal for decades.
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