Budget carrier Norwegian Air International (NAI) has vowed to revolutionise transatlantic travel with one-way flights from €69.
The "groundbreaking" fares, which are inclusive of all taxes and charges, will be available on new NAI flights planned from Dublin, Cork and Shannon to non-hub airports in New York and Boston, starting from July 1.
NAI will operate 12 flights weekly from Dublin to Boston/Providence and New York, four flights weekly from Shannon to Boston/Providence and New York as well as three departures weekly from Cork to Boston/Providence, airline boss Bjorn Kjos has confirmed to Independent.ie.
The Dublin Airport routes include a daily departure to New York's Stewart Airport, located in Orange County, about 90 minutes of New York City, and a five-times weekly service to Providence, both commencing July 1.
Flights from Belfast international Airport to Boston/Providence and New York's Stewart International will also take off from the same date.
The announcements, which confirm the first-ever direct scheduled flights from Cork to the US, have been widely welcomed in tourism and business circles, by airport chiefs, and by Tourism Minister Shane Ross.
The low lead-in rates are "some of the cheapest transatlantic fares ever seen," according to Cork Airport, and could herald a market shake-up.
A return fare of €138 is roughly one-third of the existing average with airlines like Aer Lingus, United, Delta and American to the US. It does not include extras such as checked bags, meals and seat selection, however.
Transatlantic price war
The NAI plan is to fly from Ireland to non-hub US airports - including Stewart Airport in Orange County, New York state and Green Airport in Rhode Island.
In doing so, it aims to replicate the hugely successful Ryanair model, offering savings on landing fee charges (Aer Lingus, United, American and Delta operate from Dublin and Shannon to major hub airports in North America).
Slashing fares could set off a transatlantic price war - along with a surge in tourism business that will be welcomed on both sides of the ocean.
WOW air, the Icelandic low-cost carrier, is also set to begin flying direct from Cork to Reykjavik this May. It offers one-stop transatlantic services to a range of North American destinations, including New York from €159.99 each way.
Norwegian says it will use a new generation of high-efficiency aircraft such as the Boeing 737-MAX to offer the exceptionally low fares.
"This is a wonderful day for us and we are very happy with all the support that Ireland and the Irish people have given us in our bid to get these flights launched over the past three years," Mr Kjos said.
"Some people do not like low fares for their own reasons. But we believe that the public like low air fares and will support these new routes."
Tickets will go on sale shortly at norwegian.com/ie.
Celebrations in Cork, Shannon & Dublin
Cork Airport managing director, Niall MacCarthy, hailed NAI's route announcements decision as “a great win for Open Skies.”
"It has been a long and challenging journey," he said. "Today's announcement is not just about a new route for Cork. It also heralds low-cost transatlantic access. Norwegian will do for low-cost transatlantic services what Ryanair and others have done for low-cost European services. "
Shane Ross, Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, added:
“This welcome announcement is an important development in the transatlantic aviation market and will contribute further to tourism growth and to the growth currently being experienced by all of our State Airports."
“Transatlantic traffic has tripled at Dublin Airport since 2016 and these two new routes from Norwegian mean that 19 new transatlantic services have been added to our route network since 2011,” said its Managing Director, Vincent Harrison.
Meanwhile, Housing Minister Simon Coveney described the Cork Airport route announcements as “a landmark development” for the region
Matthew Tomas, CEO of the Shannon Group, which owns and operates Shannon Airport, said: "It not only brings another new carrier to Shannon, giving us our largest number of US services in over 17 years, but it introduces a new model of low cost flying for transatlantic aviation."
“Today’s announcement is excellent news for tourism," said Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland. "As an island, the importance of convenient, direct, non-stop flights cannot be overstated – they are absolutely critical to achieving growth in inbound tourism."
The Trump Factor
Today's announcement comes after years of speculation and stand-offs surrounding the Cork/US routes in particular.
Last December, the US ended a year long stand-off with Ireland and the EU when the US Department of Transport confirmed the granting of an operating license for NAI to commence transatlantic services from Cork to Boston.
NAI was originally granted a foreign carrier permit by the Department two years ago, but had been unable to commence operations from Cork due to fierce opposition from US trade unions and politicians on labour grounds - who claimed the service would undermine US crew and ground handler contracts.
US Congressman Peter de Fazio had claimed it was attempting to use Ireland as “a flag of convenience” - a claim dismissed as totally incorrect by NAI.
Since his inauguration, President Donald Trump has also been instrumental in clearing the way for NAI to begin operations on its Irish-US routes.
The President's spokesman, Sean Spicer, recently confirmed that the White House sees major benefits in the NAI project, pointing to the fact that Norwegian flies Boeing aircraft as one reason for "a major economic interest" in the US.
NAI official Stuart Buss said the new routes represent a win-win situation for Ireland, Europe and the US. He added that it currently has 500 US cabin crew, all of which are hired under local laws and regulations with competitive packages.
“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.
Cork Airport has been campaigning for more than 25 years for a direct US link, and NAI's will be its first-ever scheduled transatlantic services.
Mr Kjos said a Cork-New York link was NAI's first option but, for operational reasons, the airline launched the Boston/Providence route instead with the New York route to follow from the airport in 2018.
Norwegian is Europe's third-largest low-cost carrier, carrying 30 million passengers annually to more than 140 global destinations.