US urged to make decision on Cork Airport flights

The European Commission has urged the US authorities to make a decision soon on the stalled licence application which is threatening the launch of the first transatlantic flights out of Cork.

The commission has also confirmed that it told US authorities over a year ago that they were in breach of the EU-US Open Skies air transport agreement by not granting a foreign carrier permit to Norwegian Airline International (NAI) — the Irish subsidiary of low-cost airline, Norwegian.

NAI wants to launch a Cork to Boston service in May and a Cork to New York service in 2017.

But despite high-level EU-US talks on technical matters twice last year, and despite the European Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc raising the issue directly with US Transport Secretary Anthony Foxx, the US Department of Transportation has still not made a decision on its licence application.

The Irish Examiner has established that the European Commission informed the US authorities in November 2014 that they were in breach of the 2007 Open Skies EU-US air transport agreement by not granting the licence, and asked its American counterparts to outline this position during technical level talks of the EU-US Joint Committee in January and June 2015.

“The commission has acted in good faith and in a fully constructive manner from the beginning of this matter,” she said.

“We have responded to the US queries, provided supplementary information and clarifications as requested.

“The commission urges the US to take its decision very soon. The Commission continues to stand ready to co-operate with the US to find a resolution to the current dispute.

“It also continues its internal assessment on the options available to it under the Air Transport Agreement.”

Intense diplomatic efforts will take place this week in a bid to break the impasse, secure the licence and ensure the Cork to Boston service launches in May, as planned.

However, aviation experts said this week is effectively a make-or-break week for NAI’s bid.

Fears are now mounting that if the issue isn’t resolved by this week or next, the Boston service could be delayed, or postponed indefinitely.

Low-cost carrier Norwegian established its Irish subsidiary, NAI, to avail of the Open Skies agreement and operate the transatlantic flights from Cork Airport.

But NAI’s application to the US DoT for a foreign carrier permit, lodged over two years ago, is being opposed by several US labour unions, and by some EU airlines. It is now the longest pending application of its kind.

Cork Chamber, officials from Cork and Dublin airports, and from the Irish Aviation Authority met the US Ambassador to Ireland last week to discuss the issue.

Ireland South MEP Deirdre Clune is expected to raise the issue at the commission this week.

Despite the impasse, NAI said it is still committed to operating the routes.

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