THE European Commission is to be asked to exert pressure on the US government in order to get the planned Cork-US flights off the ground.
The flights, which were announced last September by airline Norwegian, were due to begin operating from Cork Airport to Boston this summer, and to New York next year.
They were seen as a major turnaround in the fortunes of the airport which had seen a number of routes cancelled last year.
But it emerged this week that the plans are now in doubt as the US has not yet granted a permit to the airline for the routes. It is believed that pressure by pilots’ unions in the US has been brought to bear on the US government.
The new routes were to be operated under Norwegian’s Irish subsidiary Norwegian Air International (NAI) and to form part of the airline’s plans for continued expansion in the UK and Ireland.
At the announcement last autumn Norwegian boss Bjorn Kjos warned that the plans ‘relied on the US Department of Transportation (DoT) finally approving Norwegian Air International’s application for a foreign carrier permit’.
He added: ‘Only DoT approval will unlock the door for these exciting new routes, creating more competition, more choice and better fares for business and leisure passengers on both sides of the Atlantic.’
This week Ireland South MEP Deirdre Clune told The Southern Star that she had secured a meeting with the European Commission’s External Aviation Policy chief next Wednesday in Brussels.
‘The biggest issue is aggressive lobbying of the US Department of Trade by American legacy airlines, unions, and by some EU airlines,’ she said, adding that with the Open Skies agreement between the US and EU ‘there should be no problem’ with such a permit. ‘The delay is excessive,’ she said, adding that she would impress on the EU the urgency of the matter.
‘I am pushing hard on this issue. I am meeting with top officials in the European Commission next week to keep the pressure on them to act. 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.’
Local politicians and business people have also rowed in with their support for Norwegian’s planned routes.
Enniskeane businessman John Hosford told The Southern Star: ‘It behoves all our TDs and other politicians to put their shoulders to the wheel and make sure we don’t lose this deal. Transatlantic flights would be a game-changer for Cork Airport.’
He added that with major employers like Apple and EMC in the area, connectivity with the US would of huge value to the region. ‘We should be putting on pressure at a diplomatic level. Ministers Paschal Donohoe and Charlie Flanagan should be putting pressure on the US government and meeting with the Taoiseach and the US ambassador won this,’ he said. He added that the area now needed to put ‘four square support’ behind the airport in its bid to get the routes back on track.
A spokesman for Cork Airport said: ‘Cork Airport is working closely with Norwegian to ensure readiness for its new Cork-Boston service for next summer. Norwegian has indicated from the outset that it plans to operate the Cork-Boston service with its Irish subsidiary, Norwegian Air International, which is in the process of seeking a foreign carrier permit from the US Department for Transportation. That approval process is ongoing.’
FG TD Noel Harrington said he believed Dublin Airport Authority – which oversees Cork Airport – was working in Washington to solve the issue, and he called on Minister Simon Coveney and Taoiseach Enda Kenny to lobby the Obama administration.
The flights would provide a much-needed tourism boost, he said, and it was very disappointing they came up against these obstacles in the US.
Dáil candidate Alan Coleman said he was aware that Cork Airport had sent a delegation to Washington, and the DAA were also lobbying for the routes. ‘The Irish vote is important in the US and we need to mobilise that before the election there,’ he said.
FF Cllr Murphy O’Mahony said the issue now required government intervention to shore-up the deal and ensure it delivers for Cork. ‘Expanding flights at Cork Airport is critical to getting more visitors into the region and promoting Cork and the south-west to new visitors from North America. I have spoken to our party’s transport spokesperson Timmy Dooley who is raising this matter with the Transport Minister,’ she added.