Fares as low as $69 to Ireland from New York are now likely to be on offer after budget airline, Norwegian Air, won approval for flights between the U.S. and Ireland. Cork Airport may start flights as early as March and it is also expected that Shannon Airport will soon be offering similar fares. The low-fare budget flights became possible after the US Department of Transportation (DOT) finalized the decision to allow the flights despite opposition from U.S. carriers and airline labor groups.
“I am delighted that the Norwegian Air International license has been progressed. It makes for a big year for Cork,” said Kevin Toland, the chief executive of the DAA, which controls Cork and Dublin airports, told the Irish Independent.
Norwegian Air International (NAI), a subsidiary of Norwegian Air Shuttle, had applied in December 2013 for a permit to serve the U.S., but opposition from critics who argued that the license would undermine wages and working standards in the U.S. stalled approval of the permit for three years. Earlier this year, 32 member of Congress wrote to President Obama asking him to block the license.
In April, the U.S. Department of Transportation granted tentative approval, but the license was not issued. The final decision was not expected to be made until after a new administration was in the White House. However, on Wednesday, the European Commission accused U.S. government of breaching the “open skies” pact and filed for arbitration.
The U.S. Transportation Department announced on Friday that it had formally decided to grant NAI the license.
In a statement, the department said the case was “among the most novel and complex” it has ever undertaken.
It said: “We have taken the necessary amount of time to review and consider the comments from a wide range of stakeholders. Regardless of our appreciation of the public policy arguments raised by opponents, we have been advised that the law and our bilateral obligations leave us no avenue to reject this application. Therefore, we have decided to finalize our tentative decision to grant NAI’s request for a foreign air carrier permit.”
Tim Cannoll, the president of the Air Line Pilots’ Association (ALPA), which was opposed to the permit has said the group "is considering all options to reverse this action."
“This flawed action is a lasting legacy of the Obama administration and demonstrates an egregious lack of support for working men and women in this country," Canoll said. “This decision is an affront to fair competition and will ultimately result in the loss of U.S. jobs and, potentially, significant losses for the U.S. international aviation industry."
The U.S. DOT conceded that opponents of the permit had brought up a number of “significant concerns regarding the applicant's potential hiring and employment practices affecting its operations in US markets.”
“In reaching our decision to grant NAI's permit, we have taken into account the totality of the record regarding its application, including those changes to its hiring and employment practices that it has offered as a direct result of the difficult issues that have been raised during the course of this proceeding,” it said. “We anticipate that they will be implemented, consistently with applicable laws.”
It added: “Opponents have also raised another novel and important argument that goes directly to a central legal feature of the Agreement. By arguing that NAI represents a “flag of convenience,” opponents lose sight of this key feature of the Agreement: that under the concept of a “Community airline,” any carrier may fly under the flag of any European Union country, as well as Norway or Iceland, as long as it is satisfactorily owned and controlled by citizens of those countries.”
Norwegian Air International said in a press release that it welcomed the decision. "We welcome the long overdue news that Norwegian Air International (NAI) has finally been awarded a foreign carrier permit by the US Department of Transportation.
"The decision now made by the US DOT finally paves the way for greater competition, more flights and more jobs on both sides of the Atlantic. Above all, it is a victory for millions of passengers who will benefit from more choice and lower fares."
In a press release, the CEO of Limerick Chamber has said that the announcement overnight by the US Department of Transport to award a foreign air carrier license to Norwegian Air International is hugely positive news for Shannon Airport and the wider region.
“It’s no secret that Shannon has been activity engaged with Norwegian on this matter from as far back as 2014, right from the very start, and for good reason. This will translate into new services between Shannon and the US, which is very good and deserved news for Shannon but, moreover, for the wider region.
“As the Taoiseach said, this has the potential to do for long-haul what Ryanair has done for short-haul. That means lower prices, more services and the fact that Ireland and Shannon has been at the very start of this movement is very good news for this region. It will be good for tourism and very good also for business.
“I want to congratulate all at Shannon for their role from the very start of talks in helping to make this happen.”