Technical cert brings Cork-US flights a step closer

The first transatlantic flights from Cork Airport are a step closer. The Irish airline planning the services has secured technical certification for the aircraft on the routes.

The move came ahead of today’s US Department of Transportation (DoT) deadline for submissions on its tentative decision to grant a foreign-carrier permit to Dublin-based Norwegian Air International (NAI).

The technical certification is one of the final regulatory steps required by the airline, but it can not launch the services without the permit.

Aviation news outlets reported, over the weekend, that the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the national body for aviation regulation and safety oversight in the US, has now certified three Norwegian Boeing 737-800 aircraft as ETOPS 180-compliant.

The certification authorises the specified, twin-engine aircraft to fly routes within three hours of suitable airports. Until now, Norwegian’s fleet of 100 Boeing 737-800s have only been certified to ETOPS-120 standards.

The FAA’s decision will allow the low-fares carrier to begin using the jets on its planned, Cork-Boston route, which was due to launch this month, but which was deferred because of delays in securing the foreign-carrier permit. The airline also plans to operate a Cork-to-New York route next year.

NAI’s foreign-carrier permit application is facing stiff opposition from US and European labour unions. Unions for pilots, flight attendants, and mechanics staged a rally outside the White House last week, calling on congressmen to support a proposed bill that could block the permit.

They have accused NAI of locating its headquarters in Ireland, under a ‘flag of convenience’ model, to dodge tough Norwegian labour laws, which prohibit them from hiring contract pilots who may work for lower wages, and have also claimed that NAI’s parent company uses low-paid Asian crew.

The airline has rejected their claims, saying the service will create thousands of jobs on both sides of the Atlantic, and will boost trade and tourism.

“In fact, NAI does not have a single Asian-based crewmember or pilot, and Norwegian has continuously publically stated — and committed in writing to the US DoT — that US- and EU-based crew will be used on NAI transatlantic services,” an NAI spokesman said.

The spokesman said the airline follows the rules and regulations in all the markets in which it operates, and offers its employees competitive wages and conditions.

In a final burst of submissions in recent days, Irish business, tourism, and political interests have urged Irish-American congressmen to support the service. Shannon Airport also backed it, with a formal submission to the US DoT.

Mary Considine, acting CEO of the Shannon Group, the airport’s parent company, said Shannon Airport has been in discussions with the airline since 2014, and an agreement is in place for a transatlantic service, pending the success of the permit application.

“As a longstanding, Irish transatlantic gateway airport, unique in Europe in offering the benefits of preclearance for passengers on both commercial and private aircraft, we have witnessed the economic benefits of direct transatlantic services,” she said.

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