Ireland is poised for a massive tourism boost after US President Donald Trump confirmed he has no objection to plans by a budget airline to enter the transatlantic market.
S President Trump’s spokesman, Sean Spicer, confirmed when questioned about plans by Norwegian Air International (NAI) for new US-Irish routes that the White House sees major benefits in the project.
NAI plan direct services from Cork and Shannon to Boston and New York – with other potential Irish and US cities likely to be added.
The airline hailed the statement as “a correct understanding” of the benefits their proposed Irish-US services will offer.
Irish tourism bodies, and Cork Airport in particular, welcomed the statement as effectively clearing the final major hurdle to allow services to begin.
NAI plan to launch the first ever direct US route from Cork this summer, likely operating to smaller US airports outside major cities.
President Trump has apparently taken the view that there are major spin-off economic benefits to the US from the service.
“From what I understand, we are talking about a deal where 50 per cent of the crew and pilots are based in the United States,” Mr Spicer said.
“They fly Boeing aircraft. It is a major economic interest in the United States in the agreement right now,” he added.
NAI official Stuart Buss welcomed the statement which ended speculation that the new US administration could place further hurdles in the way of the service launch.
“We’re pleased with the US Press Secretary’s correct understanding of Norwegian and Norwegian Air International,” he said.
“No other foreign airline invests more in the American economy or creates more American jobs than Norwegian.
“We currently have 500 US based cabin crew and are the only foreign airline to be recruiting American pilots, all of which are hired under local laws and regulations with competitive packages.
“We also operate an all-Boeing fleet of more than 120 Boeing aircraft, with another 120 on order generating further economic benefits and jobs in the US.
“Norwegian is doing exactly what the US administration wants - we are creating hundreds of American jobs in the air and on the ground, he said.”
Last December the US ended a year long stand-off with Ireland and the EU by granting an operating license for NAI to commence transatlantic services.
The move is now expected to spark a price war on transatlantic services - and offers Cork its long-awaited first transatlantic link.
The US Department of Transport confirmed the granting of a license which will allow NAI to commence services from Cork to Boston in May or June.
Fares will shortly be offered for a service which Cork Airport has been campaigning for now for more than 25 years.
The budget carrier also plans to launch a service from Cork to New York, most likely in 2018.
Cork Airport managing director, Niall MacCarthy, hailed the decision as “a great win for Open Skies.”
Housing Minister Simon Coveney described the decision as “a landmark development” for Cork.
Cork Chamber of Commerce chief executive Conor Healy said the decision offered enormous potential economic benefits for both the city and entire region.
The decision came after the EU had signalled last year it was demanding independent arbitration on the US failure to grant an operating license to NAI.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny had also requested former US President Barack Obama’s help over the increasingly bitter row which even became an issue in the US Presidential election.
Mr Kenny had pleaded for commonsense over the proposed air links between Cork and the US cities of Boston and New York by NAI.
Norwegian is now tipped to slash average return fares on transatlantic services – with a surge in tourist business expected between Ireland and the US.
However, the airline had been unable to commence operations from Cork despite being granted a foreign carrier permit by the US Department of Transportation two years ago.
Norwegian had been unable to secure a permit to begin route operations as some US politicians including Hillary Clinton, backed by powerful US trade unions, have vehemently opposed the Norwegian services on labour grounds.
The Taoiseach revealed he had personally raised the issue twice with former President Obama.
Mr Kenny said there was little doubt but that the entry of Norwegian to the transatlantic market could have a Ryanair-like impact.
“The opportunity for Norwegian to fly from Ireland to the States will have the capacity to do for long haul what Ryanair did for (European) short haul with enormous opportunities for both sides.”
Cork’s Sen Jerry Buttimer warned that the Norwegian service to the US was “the crucial piece of the jigsaw” in terms of a transport strategy for Ireland’s second city.
“Cork has been working for 25 years to get a transatlantic service and it is critical that Norwegian is allowed to deliver it,” he said.
Norwegian had said it was clearly entitled to a route permit from the US authorities and repeatedly expressed confidence that the issue will be resolved.
However, US Congressman Peter de Fazio had claimed that the carrier was attempting to use Ireland as “a flag of convenience” - a claim dismissed as totally incorrect by NAI.
US trade unions had vehemently opposed the entry of Norwegian to the transatlantic market amid claims the airline will undermine existing US crew and ground handler contracts.