Tuesday, September 26, 2017
   
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Bookings Boom as First US Flights Take Off

Northern Ireland's direct link with the US will be restored on Saturday when the inaugural Norwegian Airlines' flights to Stewart International (New York) and Providence (Rhode Island/Boston) take to the skies.

Both flights are almost fully booked and Norwegian and Belfast International Airport are delighted with the uptake on the new services, which restores the Province's link to the US, broken in early January when United Airlines axed their New York Newark route. Saturday's flight to Providence to Rhode Island/Boston leaves Belfast at 2.40 pm with the aircraft to Stewart New York departing at 4.20 pm.

The inaugural incoming flights from New York and Rhode Island/Boston are due to arrive at Belfast International Airport at 9.00 am and 9.40am  next Tuesday, fittingly American Independence Day, July 4. The arrivals will be greeted with the cusomary water cannon salute to welcome the new aircraft when they touch down.

However, the new low-cost carrier - full name Norwegian Air International -  might not have won approval to serve the US under legislation a US House of Representatives approved earlier this week.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee agreed by a voice vote to add a provision dealing with foreign airlines to a bill governing the Federal Aviation Administration. The provision allows the secretary of transportation to block foreign airlines from serving the US after finding that a carrier would erode labour standards because it was established in a country other than its majority owners to avoid regulations of the home country.

Rep. Frank LoBiondo, sponsored the provision with the top Democrat on the panel, Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon. LoBiondo said the provision "would fix a terrible decision made by the Obama administration" by approving Norwegian flights to the US.

The Transportation Department approved Norwegian's application in December after an unusual three-year review. The department called the case “among the most novel and complex ever undertaken," but found that there was nothing to prevent approval of Norwegian under transport agreements with Norway and Europe.

An official of the Air Line Pilots Association said the new provision would clarify longstanding policy that could potentially disqualify airlines from serving the US. "The measure defends U.S. aviation workers against foreign carriers’ shopping the globe for cheap labor while upholding the letter and spirit of our Open Skies agreement with the European Union."

Norwegian has strongly objected to being characterised as cutting corners on safety or labour regulations. It fully complies with all transportation pacts between the US and Europe that are called Open Skies agreements, and with all US laws and regulations, spokesman Anders Lindstrom said, adding that the new legislative language approved earlier this week wouldn't affect Norwegian's existing flights or plans for expanded flights to bring travellers world-class service and lower fares, Lindstrom said.

"At a time when U.S. airline job growth continues to rise and U.S. carriers are generating record profits, the language appears to be yet another attempt by special interests to evade healthy competition and raise costly procedural hurdles to new entrants in international markets — all to the detriment of consumers, communities, aerospace manufacturers, and the travel and tourism sector," the Norwegian spokesperson said.

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