Taoiseach Enda Kenny has backed fresh Government moves to ensure the first transatlantic flights from Cork to North America are able to take off this year amid concerns the plan is struggling to get off the ground.
Mr Kenny said he is “supportive” of Transport Minister Paschal Donohue’s continuing talks with US airspace authorities and that he hopes the new routes “can become a reality”.
Under plans first mooted two years ago, low-cost airline Norwegian is set to open the first Cork to North America routes in May, with flights to Boston being followed by a similar route to New York early next year.
The routes would significant benefit the local economy by opening a gateway for businesses to travel directly to the region, while also giving Munster people an easier opportunity to take trips to the US without having to travel to Dublin, Belfast, or London to fly out.
While Norwegian has stressed it wants to set up the new routes, the US department of transportation has stalled on the matter for two years due to US airline and union objections. This is despite the fact a 2007 EU-US Open Skies agreement allows any airline travelling from an EU state the automatic right to arrange schedules for flights to the US.
In recent days it has been suggested Norwegian may decide to pull the plug on its planned Boston route from May and that there is no guarantee it will return to the issue given the ongoing difficulties in setting the flights up — leading to fresh talks between Mr Donohue, the EU, and US authorities.
Responding to a Dáil question about the matter from Cork-based Fine Gael TD Jerry Buttimer, Mr Kenny said everything possible is being done.
“The Minister for Transport, Deputy Donohue, has informed me that he has raised the matter directly with the US secretary of transport of the European Commission,” he said. “The Government is supportive of the service being allowed in Cork. We hope that can become a reality.”
The comments were made as senior Bus Éireann officials told a separate Oireachtas group it may have to make “further changes” to its inter-city routes — another key issue for people flying into Ireland before facing lengthy follow-on journeys to their final destinations — to “ensure their survival”.
The firm’s chief executive Martin Nolan told the transport committee the move may be necessary as “competition has increased” from private rivals like Air Coach and that Bus Éireann is effectively in “survival mode”.
Criticising the comments, Limerick-based Fine Gael TD Patrick O’Donovan asked if it is “adequate in 2016 that people can be stuck on a bus for four and a half hours with no access to a toilet” and if this — rather than “competition” — is the real difficulty for Bus Éireann.
After warning some elderly passengers have “bladder problems” committee chair and Fine Gael TD John O’Mahony said he wanted to “intervene to be constructive” — before Bus Éireann officials said a number but not all of its services contain the facilities.
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