The first transatlantic flights from Cork Airport could take off before the end of the year with talks on flight operations and ticket sales poised to take place soon.
The low-fares giant Norwegian said it remains committed to launching its proposed Cork to Boston service this year following the breakthrough in its stalled foreign carrier permit application process.
The airline is also planning a Cork-Barcelona route around the same time, and a Cork to New York route next year.
However, following Friday’s breakthrough, when the US Department of Transportation (DoT) issued an order proposing to grant the permit to Norwegian’s Irish subsidiary, Norwegian Air International (NAI), the airline’s spokesman said that. pending formal approval, “it remains our hope” to start the Boston service this year.
The DoT’s decision to tentatively grant the permit has triggered a 21-day consultation process, with a final decision expected before the end of May.
Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) CEO Kevin Toland said they are already looking forward to working with the airline to progress its flight operations from Cork and to get flight tickets on sale as quickly as possible.
Friday’s ruling brought an end to NAI’s stalled two-year application process — the longest pending application of its kind ever lodged with the DoT.
It also marked the end of an intensive lobbying campaign mounted by Cork business and Irish aviation and political leaders, backed by pressure from the European Commission. Irish interests had also engaged top lobbyists in Washington to press the case politically.
Their efforts culminated with a diplomatic offensive on Washington, involving Cork Chamber and senior DAA executives, timed to coincide with the St Patrick’s Day celebrations.
Acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny also raised the issue directly with US president Barack Obama during his visit to the White House on March 15.
A DoT spokesperson said Norwegian’s application raised complex and novel issues, particularly around labour-law, which required careful consideration.
The DoT said it took the unprecedented step of formally consulting the US Departments of Justice and State, two agencies with special expertise on international law, before arriving at its tentative decision, published on Friday.
European Affairs Minister Dara Murphy described NAI’s application as a “landmark test case” and said now that the DoT has made its historic ruling, it could help trigger major growth in transatlantic flights from Cork Airport.
Cork Airport managing director Niall MacCarthy praised all involved in the lobbying, and singled out Cork Chamber for its “solid support”.
Chamber chief executive Conor Healy said the Taoiseach’s intervention with Mr Obama, combined with the collective efforts of Cork ministers and other political representatives, was a key element in achieving the progress.
The mayor of Cork County, John Paul O’Shea, who pressed the case while leading a business and tourism delegation to Boston last December, said the transatlantic flights will help boost tourism in the region.