Shane Ross slams US over 'frustrating' delays on Cork air route decision
Transport Minister Shane Ross has blasted US authorities for the delay in granting Norwegian Air International (NAI) a permit that would enable it to fly between Cork and Boston.
NAI, a subsidiary of Norwegian Air Shuttle, has spent the past two years trying to secure the licence.
"As the global debate continues on the further liberalisation of international aviation, it is apparent that there are interests on both sides of the Atlantic that would like to reverse the process," Mr Ross told global aviation executives at the International Air Transport Association (IATA) annual general meeting in Dublin yesterday.
"It is unfortunate that Norwegian... appears to have fallen victim to this wider global debate," he said.
"The airline is already providing new routes at low cost between places on both sides of the Atlantic that have never had transatlantic services before."
NAI has established a base in Dublin, where it employs close to 100 people, and also has aircraft registered here.
It had intended to start flights between Cork and Boston this summer, and between Cork and New York next year. It is also interested in starting a route from Shannon to the US.
The subsidiary wants to use Ireland as a base so it can fly between Europe and the US under the Open Skies agreement that allows airlines from the EU and the US unfettered access to each other's territories.
But intense political and union opposition to NAI's plans has delayed a decision on its permit.
Mr Ross said NAI had been unable to launch its service from Cork and that it's "extremely frustrating" that it has not been able to do so yet.
He said the delay is "not in the interests of the many people in the Cork and Boston regions".
Opponents to NAI claim it is using Ireland as a base to circumvent more stringent employment law in Norway.
The airline has consistently denied such claims. The US Department of Transportation recently indicated that it intends to grant the permit to NAI. But that decision has to receive final approval from executive branches of the US government. There's no timeline on when that decision has to be made.
The chief executive of the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA), Eamonn Brennan, said this week that he's concerned that a decision on a permit could be pushed out to later in the year. The US presidential election could delay the process.
Both democratic presidential nominee hopefuls, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, have said they're opposed to NAI's plans.
Cork Airport managing director Niall MacCarthy yesterday welcomed Mr Ross's comments.