Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary has branded as shameful the US Department of Transport’s hesitance in granting a licence to Norwegian Air International (NAI) to operate transatlantic flights between Cork and the United States.
Despite making a tentative decision in April 2016 to grant a foreign carrier permit to the Irish-based airline — a subsidiary of low-fares giant Norwegian Air — the US government has failed to confirm the licence amid push back on the new routes from unions representing airline staff on both sides of the Atlantic, and petitions from Congressmen to block the move.
The controversial Irish businessman was speaking at the US Embassy’s Creative Minds series in Dublin when he referred to the several months’ long delay, stating that both the US government and the European authorities lack the political will to push the licence through. O’Leary stated that Europe simply “sits on its hand doing nothing except wringing its hands” while the US are “afraid they might upset someone in Congress.”
“Meanwhile, there’s no route between Cork and New York — nobody is flying it. So what is missing is not the technology, it’s actually the political will to make it happen,” he said.
The Ryanair boss has himself alluded to his airline’s evolution into transatlantic services and has long been an advocate for providing these routes at cheaper costs but nothing has of yet been decided as financially viable. He was also among the high-profile Irish businessman and political figures who voiced their support for the licence earlier this year.
Read more: Ryanair rethink transatlantic flight plan
Norwegian Air had hoped their Irish subsidiary would be able to take advantage of the Open Skies Agreement, which allows EU-registered airlines to fly to the US from anywhere in the EU, but has met with opposition in the US from US aviation unions, airlines and some politicians. Norway is not in the EU.
The company’s hopes to launch its proposed Cork to Boston service this year and the airline plans to expand from there and add a Cork – New York route in 2017. The direct service between Boston and Cork is expected to be offered by the budget carrier four to five days a week with prices between $300 and $350 for a round trip.
Despite polls showing that the opening of the routes is welcomed in Ireland, unions have accused the European airline of planning to source their employees in Asia, an accusation NAI have vehemently denied.
Speaking in Dublin this week, O’Leary claimed that the long-running debate over the Norwegian Air licence was being used as a political tool by lobbying groups during this election year.
“We technically have US/Europe Open Skies yet Norwegian are utterly shamefully being blocked, mainly by the lobbying activity of the pilots’ union on this side and the American pilots union in the States using the current elections as a means of forcing the [US] state department, or whoever it is, to not licence Norwegian to fly,” he argued.
The licence issue was, in fact, raised during the earlier stages of the Presidential election this year when Democratic Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders voiced his opposition to the granting of a foreign carrier licence to NAI. The call was reiterated by Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Thirty-two Congressmen also petitioned President Obama in May 2016, calling on him to block the licence, with four Congressmen introducing legislation they hoped would block its acceptance.
MEP (Member of the European Parliament) and EU transport committee member Deirdre Clune this week called on European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to raise the matter with President Obama. Clune insists that the NAI proposal complies with the EU/US Open Skies agreement.
“US authorities have left this file sit on a desk somewhere in the US department of transport is not satisfactory and a clear breach of the Open Skies agreement,” she claimed.
Do you believe the US government should grant a licence to NAI to operate flights between Cork and the US. Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below?
H/T: Irish Examiner