The European Commission is set to hold high-level talks next week in a bid to save the first transatlantic flights out of Cork.
News of the meetings comes as the head of the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) chief executive Kevin Toland said he believes the delay by US authorities in issuing a licence to the airline involved is a result of political, not legal challenges.
Ireland South MEP Deirdre Clune led calls last night for all channels of diplomacy to be used to secure the service which could transform Cork Airport’s fortunes, adding up to 50,000 passengers a year.
Norwegian Air International (NAI), Norwegian’s Irish subsidiary, is planning to use Ireland as a base to launch a Cork to Boston service in May.
By availing of the 2007 EU-US Open Skies Agreement, the low-cost carrier also hopes to launch a Cork to New York service next year.
But an unprecedented two-year delay by the US Department of Transportation (DoT) in sanctioning NAI’s foreign carrier permit is fuelling fears the launch of the service could be delayed.
Norwegian says it is still committed to the service but with the clock ticking, fears are growing the service may not even get off the ground.
Ms Clune said she raised her concerns at the permit delay at an aviation hearing in the European Parliament just before Christmas.
“That day, the Commission were talking about other Norwegian routes from Europe to the US that had the same problem,” Ms Clune said.
She said she is due to meet the head of the European Commission’s External Aviation Policy sector next week to press the issue again.
The biggest issue, she said, is the aggressive lobbying of the US DoT by American legacy airlines and unions, and by some EU airlines.
“I am pushing hard on this issue, and I am meeting with top officials in the commission next week. I am urging that all channels of diplomacy are used to put pressure on the US Department of Transport to approve the route without delay.”
Mr Toland said all the necessary Irish approvals have been granted to the airline . “It’s held up by political, not legal or practical challenges,” he said.
Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe said the Open Skies Agreement is designed to encourage innovative competition in the transatlantic air market.
“New services from smaller airports such as Cork, which have never had transatlantic services, is precisely the type of innovation that the agreement was designed to facilitate,” he said.
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