US travel chiefs urge Obama to approve Cork flights to Boston

Some of the most influential travel industry leaders in America have urged US President Barack Obama to approve a licence for low-cost flights to the US from Ireland.

In a letter to Obama, the CEOs of several top hotels and travel groups described his administration’s delay in processing Norwegian Air International’s (NAI) foreign carrier permit application as “inexcusable”. NAI, an Irish subsidiary of low-fares giant, Norwegian, applied to the US Department of Transportation (DoT) for the permit on February 14, 2014. The airline wants to launch low-cost flights from Cork to Boston and New York under the terms of the EU/US Open Skies Agreement.

However, its application has faced bitter opposition from certain US and European labour and airline unions which have questioned the airline’s labour practices, accusing the airline of setting up an Irish operation as a “flag of convenience” — a claim the airline has consistently rejected.

Despite the opposition, the DoT signalled its intention last April to grant the licence — but it still hasn’t been signed off. The airline has now been waiting more than 900 days for a decision — a record delay.

Despite the protracted process, the airline says it remains committed to launching the services from Cork Airport, and later, from Shannon.

In the latest development, 12 leaders of America’s travel and hotel industry have written directly to Mr Obama urging immediate action.

The executives, including US Travel Association president and CEO Roger Dow, Hilton president and CEO Christopher Nassetta, Marriott president and CEO Arne Sorenson, Loews Hotels president and CEO Kirk Kinsell, and MGM Resorts chairman and CEO James Murren, said the delay is “postponing potential economic benefits” to the US: “As leaders in the US travel industry that employs millions of Americans, we cannot over-emphasise the value of the connectivity created through our more than 100 Open Skies agreement, both to the travel sector and to the broader economy.”

The European Commission told the US DoT in July that it plans to launch formal arbitration in a bid to force a decision on NAI’s licence.

The industry leaders said the US government should convene relevant stakeholders to make a decision and avoid arbitration.

Meanwhile, Cork Airport last night welcomed Ryanair’s increased frequency on their Lanzarote and Malaga routes — up to five flights a week — for summer 2017, and increased frequency on its Tenerife, Gran Canaria and Malaga routes next winter. The extra flights will see Ryanair flying an extra 20,000 passengers from Cork — up from 840,000 this year to 860,000 next year.

Airport managing director Niall MacCarthy said the extra flights will give customers more flexibility: “We are experiencing growth of 9% since January and I’m expecting this to continue until year end.”

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