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EXCLUSIVE: Norwegian Air granted licence paving way for first ever direct routes between Cork and US

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Norwegian. Photo: Deposit

Norwegian. Photo: Deposit

Norwegian. Photo: Deposit

Norwegian Air International (NAI) has been finally granted a licence by US authorities that will enable to launch highly anticipated direct transatlantic routes between Ireland and American cities including Boston and New York.

The flights – the first ever direct routes between Cork and the United States – are now certain to launch in 2017. Boston is first on NAI’s planned schedule from Cork, with New York to follow later.

Kevin Toland, the chief executive of the DAA, which controls Cork and Dublin airports, tonight welcomed the decision.

“I am delighted that the Norwegian Air International licence has been progressed. It makes for a big year for Cork,” he told the Irish Independent.

He thanked all the communities, companies, educational bodies and others who had supported NAI’s application.

For three years, the US Department of Transportation (DOT) has been sitting on an application from NAI to secure a foreign carrier permit that will allow it to operate between the EU and the US.

The DOT said in April that it intended to grant the permit, but it had not been issued. It was widely expected that the DOT would wait until a new administration was in the White House before any final decision was made.

The delay invoked the ire of the European Commission, which has said that wider trade agreements between the US and the EU could be threatened.

The NAI application had been opposed by powerful US aviation unions, who claimed that granting NAI a licence to operate between the EU and America would eventually result in tens of thousands of US aviation jobs being lost – claims that NAI and its parent had denied.

But the US DOT has dramatically said it has formally decided to grant NAI its licence.

In a statement, the DOT described the NAI case as being “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 finalise our tentative decision to grant NAI’s request for a foreign air carrier permit.”

The decision is certain to be hugely welcomed in Cork, but to enrage US aviation unions.

Tim Cannoll, the president of America’s biggest pilot union, Air Line Pilots’ Association (ALPA), told the Irish Independent in October that the union would consider pursuing legal action including a judicial review, if the US DOT issued the permit without the union’s labour concerns being addressed.

ALPA has opposed NAI’s plans to use Ireland as a base to avail of the Open Skies agreement that exists between the European Union and the United States. That agreement allows airlines from the EU to fly to any destination in the US, and vice versa.

In granting a permit to NAI, the US DOT conceded that opponents had raised 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,” said the US DOT. “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.”

Online Editors