The US authorities are in breach of the landmark EU-US Open Skies deal by delaying a licence to the airline planning the first transatlantic flights from Cork Airport.
That’s the view of the European Commission which is expected to take on the US Department of Transportation (DoT) over the issue over the coming weeks as fears mount that the proposed Cork to Boston flights, due to launch in May, could be delayed by the lengthy impasse.
The 2007 Open Skies deal provides that any airline registered and approved by an EU member state may be granted traffic rights to fly from anywhere in the EU to anywhere in the US.
Low-cost carrier Norwegian applied to the DoT two years ago for a foreign carrier permit for its Dublin-based Norwegian Air International (NAI) — its Irish subsidiary — to operate flights from Cork to the US from May. It also plans to launch a Cork to New York service next year.
The announcement was hailed as a game-changer for Cork Airport and as a major boost for the region.
But after US airline and union objections, the licence application process stalled. It is now the longest pending application of its kind.
A DoT spokesperson confirmed to the Irish Examiner over the weekend that NAI’s permit request is still being assessed.
“The application involves novel and complex issues, and we are taking the necessary time to evaluate the long-term application appropriately,” she said. “There is no statutory deadline or current estimate as to when the analysis will be complete.”
Amid calls for the government to intervene, Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe confirmed he has been liaising with the EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc about the issue, and they held talks last month.
He said he is optimistic that the Commission will take the appropriate steps under the Open Skies agreement to help resolve the dispute. But he said the government’s position on this matter has been clear from the outset.
“NAI is an EU airline licensed by the Irish aviation authorities in full compliance with EU law,” he said. “As such it should be allowed to avail of the rights available to all EU airlines under the EU-US Open Skies Agreement.
“When first put in place back in 2007, the Open Skies Agreement with the US was 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 both he and his his predecessor Leo Varadkar wrote to the US Secretary for Transportation outlining Ireland’s position, and that the matter has also been raised at a number of meetings with the US administration and by the Irish Ambassador in Washington over the last two years.
Despite the permit impasse, Norwegian says it’s still committed to launching the transatlantic routes out of Cork Airport.
But it said it can’t release tickets for sale, or announce fare details or flight times until it receives the permit.
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