Senior management from Cork Airport and the DAA are set to mount an all-out diplomatic offensive on Washington and Boston ahead of the St Patrick’s Day festivities in a bid to secure Cork’s first transatlantic flights.
Airport managing director Niall MacCarthy and senior DAA executives will travel to the US to attend several high-profile Irish-American events in both cities in the run-up to the March 17 celebrations.
They will use the week to brief influential figures on the importance of the service proposed by low-cost carrier Norwegian’s Irish subsidiary, Norwegian Air International (NAI).
Protracted delays by the US department of transportation (DoT) on NAI’s application for a foreign carrier permit forced the airline to postpone its proposed May launch of a Cork to Boston service. The deferral also affected its plans to launch a Cork to Barcelona service and is also threatening the launch of its Cork to New York service next year.
European Transport Commissioner, Violeta Bulc, is due in Washington over the coming days to meet her US counterparts. “While the primary purpose of these meetings is to discuss ongoing negotiations on decarbonisation of aviation, we expect the issue of NAI to be raised,” her spokesman said.
The Commission is also poised to trigger an arbitration process in a bid to break the permit deadlock.
With the European Commission now on the case, the Irish aviation executives hope that by leveraging all diplomatic channels, pressure will build on the US authorities ahead of the Taoiseach’s expected arrival in Washington for the annual shamrock ceremony.
“Cork Airport management has called for joined up Irish/EU pressure on US secretary of transport anthony Foxx to grant NAI its foreign carrier permit to operate its Cork-Boston service, as the delay is damaging Cork’s economy and our ability to grow tourism and foreign direct investment,” a Cork Airport spokesperson said.
NAI has been waiting two years for a decision from the US DoT on its foreign carrier permit application. It is now the longest pending application of its kind.
Objections from US airlines and labour unions have been blamed for the delay amid concerns NAI will operate under a flag of convenience which will drive down the terms, conditions, and wages of American crew.
However, the European Commission has insisted the airline’s application is fully compliant with the EU-US Open Skies Agreement and that a permit should be granted.
Meanwhile, it has been confirmed Shannon Airport has also struck a deal with Norwegian on a proposed Boston service, pending US approval. Passengers using Shannon Airport can avail of US Custom and Border Protection pre-clearance — a major advantage over Cork Airport.
A Shannon Airport spokesman said the deal arose out of discussions which began in 2014.
A spokesman for Norwegian said the Cork routes are the focus but the airline is looking at opportunities from other Irish airports.
“Not only are we fully committed to new transatlantic flights from Cork this year but we are also looking at options for further expansion in Ireland,” he said.
However, he stressed the plans all depend on the US DoT finally approving NAI’s permit application.
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