Norwegian Air has been granted a permit for US-Ireland flights, paving the way for the first low-cost transatlantic flights from Ireland.

The US Transportation Department granted approval to the low-cost carrier yesterday, ending a lengthy stalemate due, in part, to opposition from some American airlines and unions.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny confirmed the news at an event at the Irish Consulate in New York last night.

He said the decision would "do for long-haul travel what Ryanair have done for short-haul travel".

Originally Norwegian Air International, an Irish-registered company owned by the Norwegian Air Group, had planned a service from Cork to Boston which it had hoped to start in May of this year, with a service from the city to New York scheduled for 2017.

Those plans were put on hold pending the granting of the approval.

US airline lobbyists had opposed awarding the licence to the low-cost airline, fearing that it would undermine US wages and working standards.

In a statement, the carrier said the delays were "unfortunate and unnecessary" but the move "finally paves the way for greater competition, more flights and more jobs on both sides of the Atlantic".

It continued: "Above all, it is a victory for millions of passengers who will benefit from more choice and lower fares. We now look forward to working on our plans for Norwegian's continued expansion in the US, delivering the flights, jobs and economic boost we always promised we would."

The US Department of Transport has said that in granting the permit, it has taken into account changes to the airline's hiring and employment practices that the carrier offered as a direct result of the issues that were raised.

The Department's decision paper also said it anticipates that these will be implemented consistently with applicable laws.

Norwegian Air is Europe's third biggest budget carrier.

It had originally planned flights to start from Cork Airport, but the Taoiseach named Shannon Airport as another option it was considering. 

Ireland West Airport at Knock also had made supporting submissions to the US Transport authorities in support of the plan saying that it would open up all of Ireland's regional airports.

In the approval documentation, the Department of Transport described the case as "among the most novel and complex ever undertaken by the Department" adding that it had "taken the necessary amount of time to review and consider the comments from a wide range of stakeholders". 

Mr Kenny said he had raised the issue when speaking with US President Barack Obama last March in the White House and that he was pleased to announce that approval had now been granted.

Pilots Association raises concern over Norwegian Air's labour practices

The Irish Airline Pilots Association (IALPA) has raised concerns about Norwegian Air's labour practices.

IALPA President Evan Cullen said today that while they are in favour of more routes opening to the US, the association is concerned that Norwegian Air uses Asian contracts for crew.

In response, Norwegian said today that it has committed in writing to the US Department of Transportation to say that only US and EU-based crew will be used on the proposed NAI transatlantic routes.

The decision from the US authorities follows a recent intervention from the European Commission who had sought arbitration over the airline's request which had not received a decision in three years.

The move is likely to cause prices across a range of airlines to drop as competition increases.

In July of this year, Paris became the sixth European city with nonstop flights to the US with Norwegian Air International.

The airline flies to several airports in the US including New York, Boston, Oakland and Orlando.

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Charlie Flanagan said the "new route will strengthen Ireland’s links with Boston and New England, and represents a further significant boost to Cork Airport and the southern region".

Eamonn Brennan, Chief Executive of the Irish Aviation Authority, also said it was a welcome development.

"NAI are now safely operating close to 50 aircraft on the Irish register all across Europe and this decision will help NAI to open up the transatlantic to more consumers from more regions."

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