Published on April 17th, 2016 | by Jim Lee0
Transatlantic services from Cork finally in sight as the airport ramps up its infrastructure
On the 15th April, Cork Airport issued a statement welcoming a United States Department of Transportation announcement, on Norwegian Air International’s licence application for services, from Cork to the US, two years after the carrier first submitted its application.
It follows an earlier statement by daa Chief Executive Kevin Toland, exactly a month earlier, on 15th March, where he welcomed what was described as “the news” emanating from a meeting between An Taoiseach Enda Kenny and US President Barack Obama, that day, during Mr. Kenny’s visit to the United States, for the St. Patrick’s days celebrations.
In his statement Mr. Toland said he was “delighted” that President Barack Obama had “confirmed that there is no political impediment to Norwegian International Airways commencing flights from Cork to Boston later this year.” For their part, he added that Norwegian International Airlines (NAI) was “fully committed to commencing new transatlantic flights from Cork this year”. He urged politicians however, “to continue to maintain pressure on US administration officials to take action to grant the foreign carrier permit to Norwegian to allow the airline progress plans for its Cork-Boston service, without delay”.
He concluded that while he was “grateful” for that “advancement”, he was “deeply concerned that any further administrative delays on the US side, could seriously damage this business.”
In its most recent statement, Cork Airport said it believes that the US Department of Transportation (DOT) had “tentatively” approved NAI’s Licence application for services from Cork to the US and that it would “issue a final decision within 28 days”.
What the DOT has issued was an Order to Show Cause, in relation to the awarding of a foreign carrier permit to NAI, for these services.
The US DOT’s ‘Order to Show Cause’ does in fact state that it “tentatively” finds that NAI “should be issued the foreign air carrier permit” and adds “there is no legal basis to deny the airline a licence”. The DOT’s order is now open for public comment by interested parties.
In its statement, the U.S. DOT say that NAI’s application led to an extensive number of filings that were submitted throughout the course of the case, both in support of and opposition to the application. “The substantive legal and regulatory points raised by the parties reflected the novel and complex nature of the case, which required careful and comprehensive DOT review” it noted.
It went on “In the show cause order, DOT acknowledged that the labour-related concerns raised by NAI’s opponents warranted proceeding with caution and careful consideration. Given the importance of the arguments raised, especially those about the legal effect of the labour provision of the U.S.-EU Agreement, the Department went to great lengths to give full consideration to such issues. In addition to the Department’s Office of the General Counsel performing its own international law analysis, DOT took the unprecedented step of formally consulting two agencies with special expertise on international law, the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) and the Department of State (DOS), to solicit their views”.
The DOT’s ‘show cause order’ also states that, based on the record as a whole, as well as its consultations with the Departments of Justice and State, the provision in the U.S.-EU Agreement that addresses labour does not afford a basis “for rejecting an applicant that is otherwise qualified to receive a permit”. In this regard, the order states that “NAI appears to meet DOT’s normal standards for award of a permit and that there appears to be no legal basis to deny NAI’s application”. Objections to DOT’s tentative decision are due by 6th May 2016, and answers to objections are due on 13th May 2016. DOT will then review those submissions before issuing a final order.
Commenting on the announcement, which finally opens a time-bound process for all interested parties to make submissions supporting or opposing the awarding of the permit, Niall MacCarthy, Managing Director at Cork Airport said; “This is absolutely fantastic news for the airport, the airline and the region. We have worked so hard to make this happen over many months in both Washington and locally. I acknowledge the great support received from our local business stakeholders, local politicians and the Irish Government. I would particularly commend Cork Chamber for their solid support in these efforts”.
He went on “Today marks a step change in this process and brings us even closer to a significant milestone in the airport’s history. It is also fantastic news for our passengers from Munster, who have been very supportive since it was first announced that Cork Airport was to get its first transatlantic service. Once the licence process is cleared, we look forward to engaging with Norwegian to get tickets on sale as soon as possible and the earliest practical start to operations from Cork to Boston followed by New York in due course.”
Bjørn Kjos CEO of Norwegian Group added; “A final approval, based on the Open Skies Agreement between the U.S. and EU, will be win-win for consumers and the economy on both sides of the Atlantic. It will allow Norwegian to expand our U.S. operations. Our continued presence in the U.S. will create thousands of jobs and generate tens of millions of dollars of economic activity for the Group’s U.S. destinations.”
In a statement, Norwegian added that it, “intends to continue hiring hundreds of American-based crewmembers, bring hundreds of thousands of European tourists to the United States, continue to offer the American people affordable fares and efficiently utilise an $18.5 billion (around €16.4 billion) order of planes from American manufacturer Boeing”.
The objecting parties to the licence have generally asserted that NAI was seeking to use Ireland as a “flag of convenience,” and have argued that while NAI is a subsidiary of the Norwegian flag carrier Norwegian Air Shuttle (NAS), it has established itself in Ireland “to evade the social laws of Norway in order to lower the wages and working conditions of its air crew”. Some objectors also assert that NAI’s business plan raises safety concerns.
The opponents largely concentrate on the aspect of NAI’s business plan under which, they argue, it would “hire its pilots and cabin crew from a third-party company domiciled in Singapore, rather than directly employing personnel itself”. According to these opponents, this would create a scenario where, “although the pilots and crew are subject to the direction and control of NAI, they must resolve any employment matters with the third-party company, rather than directly with the air carrier”.
NAI and its supporters, on the other hand, contend that NAI has satisfied the legal requirements of the U.S.-EU Agreement and U.S. law and therefore is qualified to operate as a foreign carrier. NAI further states that the arguments raised by the objecting parties, are an attempt, by U.S. labour organisations to achieve through the NAI licensing proceeding, “what they failed to achieve during the U.S.-EU negotiations that established the U.S.-EU Agreement”. NAI has also said that it offers competitive wages, and points to the significant number of U.S. citizens that are seeking employment with the carrier, as evidence of a quality work environment. In this regard, it has also committed to use only American and European pilots and crews on its transatlantic flights, “except if compelled by extraordinary and unforeseen operational reasons”. It notes that it will continue to engage flight crew through employment agencies (i.e., third-party hiring), although it has been, and will continue to be, its firm policy to offer pilots and cabin crews employed through agencies, the opportunity to transfer their employment to a company in the Norwegian group, at the end of a 24-36 month transitional period.
Finally, all Irish citizens should be concerned that many of the parties objecting to the licence continue to sow confusion where, in fact, there is absolute clarity, with respect to the safety of NAI and the effectiveness of Irish safety oversight. NAI have confirmed that all pilots and flight attendants on each and every of its aircraft are subject to Irish training and certification requirements. Many of the submissions opposing this application ignore these facts and instead attack Ireland’s exemplary record of safety oversight. Significantly, but not surprisingly, it should be noted that the US Federal Aviation Administration has determined that Ireland meets all internationally-agreed safety standards.
Greater choice from Cork Airport this summer
While the importance of the new NAI transatlantic service cannot be overestimated, it should not be forgotten that Cork Airport has the biggest and best selection of destinations of any airport outside of Dublin. With over 50 routes to choose from at Cork Airport, passengers looking to travel for business or pleasure this summer have an unbeatable choice of destinations. For anyone looking to fly to the UK, Cork Airport has 14 destinations available including London City Airport, right in the heart of London. Sun seekers from the county have a choice of 11 destinations in Spain, including firm favourites of Canary Islands, Menorca, Alicante, Malaga and Barcelona. France is also very well served from Cork Airport with six popular tourist spots. In addition, anyone planning to travel to the Euros in June to support Ireland can plan their trip with ease via the airport.
The airport is welcoming at least nine new routes this summer, with a further three in the near future. New routes include Düsseldorf with Aer Lingus, London City, Nantes and La Rochelle with CityJet, Madrid with Iberia Express, Cardiff with Flybe, Southampton and Leeds Bradford with Aer Lingus Regional as well as Menorca with Lee Travel and Stein Travel.
The three new routes are of course, those promised by Norwegian. It is committed to commenting its new Cork – Boston service as soon as it receives its foreign carrier permit from the US Department of Transportation. The airline is also committed to launching a Cork – Barcelona service, as well as a New York service in 2017.
Ryanair is also launching three new winter sun destinations in its winter 2016 schedule. The services from Cork Airport include weekly service to Gran Canaria and Tenerife and a twice-weekly service to Malaga. It is expected that the new routes will add 50,000 extra passengers from the region. Routes already serviced by Ryanair for winter 2016 include Lanzarote, Gdansk, Liverpool, London Stansted, London Gatwick and Wroclaw. The new services will increase the number of weekly Ryanair flights this coming winter from Cork Airport to over 40, an increase of 11%.
New Airbridge to meet passenger growth
In order to help meet demand due to passenger growth, Cork Airport has installed a new airbridge. The new airbridge, the second at the airport, represents an investment of €450,000 and is aligned with the passenger growth at the airport. The airbridge has been installed at aircraft parking stand 8 and following some power and systems testing, will be operational over the coming weeks. The existing airbridge, located at stand 9, is being optimised by Aer Lingus on its 12 daily flights, so the addition of the second airbridge is very welcome.
The new airbridge was constructed by Thyssenkrupp and was transported from Spain. Due to its size, the convoy delivering the new airbridge required approvals from An Garda Siochána.
“There are a number of challenges installing a new airbridge and we received fantastic support from Airport Police, Airside Operations, our airline partners and ground handlers. We will be finalising the installation over the coming days and I expect that the first passengers to experience the new airbridge will do so by the end of the month,” said Bill Daly, Head of Asset Care at Cork Airport.
The new airbridge is just one of a number of significant infrastructure investments being made at Cork Airport over the coming months, including the replacement of the airport’s car parking IT system, as it continues to ensure it offers a world-class, award-winning passenger experience.
Mr MacCarthy described the new airbridge as a significant milestone for the airport as it returns to positive passenger growth. “It is a strong endorsement of our commitment to continuously improving the overall passenger experience and ensuring we are positioned for new airline partners in the future, particularly in preparation for the impending transatlantic route” he said.