Cork to US flights get green light for takeoff

Plans to launch the first transatlantic flights from Cork Airport to the US have finally been cleared for take-off after a stalled licence was sanctioned last night.

It followed a decision by the US authorities to grant a foreign carrier permit to Norwegian Air International (NAI) - the Irish subsidiary of low-fares giant Norwegian, which applied for the licence almost three years ago.

Bitterly opposed by several US and European airlines and labour unions, the application has been one of the longest pending applications of its kind.

They accused the airline of operating a flag of convenience to skirt labour laws.

However, the airline, the Irish authorities and the European Commission insisted that the application complied with the 2007 EU-US Open Skies deal.

The US Department of Transportation issued a tentative decision in April flagging its intention to grant NAI a licence.

However, when a final decision was not forthcoming, the European Commission triggered arbitration, as allowed under the Open Skies deal.

But in a surprise move last night, the US Department of Transportation confirmed that it was now issuing its final decision and granting the licence. It said the case was among the most novel and complex ever investigated by the department.

Cork Airport managing director Niall MacCarthy described the proposed service as a game-changer for the airport and wider region.

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