The low-cost carrier Norwegian Air Shuttle is promising to boost traffic at smaller airports on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean when it starts service to Europe this summer from Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York.
Norwegian Air announced on Feb. 23 that it's opening new flight crew bases and plans to hire pilots and flight attendants at Rhode Island's T.F. Green Airport and Stewart International Airport in Newburgh, New York, about 60 miles north of New York City.
Year-round flights from those airports to Edinburgh, Scotland, begin in June, and to four airports in Ireland and Northern Ireland in July.
There also will be flights to Edinburgh from Connecticut's Bradley International Airport, near Hartford. Officials who represent the three Northeast airports and their counterparts in Ireland celebrated the move as a boon for family vacationers, business travelers, and local jobs and tourism.
"Everyone would rather fly out of here than schlepp to Boston," said Rhode Island Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo, speaking that morning at a news conference at the airport in Warwick, just south of Providence and about an hour's drive from Boston's Logan Airport.
Norwegian Air's move creates the first year-round international flights for the Rhode Island airport after years of expanding runways, building hotels, and making a commuter-train connection. "People thought we were a little far-reaching, and finally all the pieces are starting to come together," said Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian, a Republican.
One-way flights bound for Europe started at $65 for the first 10,000 seats, but were already selling out on Feb. 23. Once the introductory phase is over, flights will start at $99. Some Europe-bound flights were on sale for more than $300 on the airline's website near the end of last month.
The service includes flights to Cork, Dublin and Shannon airports in Ireland, and to Belfast in Northern Ireland.
The company won permission from the Obama administration in December for its disputed plan to expand flights to the United States, but did not receive approval from the Federal Aviation Administration until Feb., spokesman Anders Lindstrom said.
Several large US airlines and their labor unions opposed the expansion, arguing it would threaten US jobs. They have accused Norwegian Air of getting around Norway's labor and tax laws by operating new flights with a subsidiary based in Ireland called Norwegian Air International.
The Transportation Department approved a foreign air-carrier permit for the subsidiary in December, but pilot unions and other opponents are pushing Republican President Donald Trump to overturn the decision. White House press secretary Sean Spicer suggested earlier last month that the country would benefit from the arrangement because US workers would build the planes and service them.
Rhode Island state officials say they expect Norwegian Air to seek money from a $1.5 million state incentive fund designed to attract new commercial routes to the airport.
Tourism Ireland has welcomed the announcement of a raft of new Norwegian Airllne (NAI) services from the US to the island of Ireland. The agency's North American CEO Allison Metcalf said, “Today’s announcement is more good news for Irish tourism from the United States, following a record year in 2016 when an estimated 1.4 million American travelers visited Ireland, and augurs well for prospects for tourism from the US to Ireland in 2017. These flights will certainly help boost tourism from the US and offer more choice for potential travelers living in the Northeast.
“As an island, the importance of convenient, non-stop flights cannot be overstated – they are critical to achieving growth in inbound tourism. Tourism Ireland looks forward to working and partnering with Norwegian and Belfast, Dublin, Shannon and Cork airports through various initiatives to drive demand for the new flights,”
Bjørn Kjos, Founder and CEO of Norwegian said “The wait is finally over for Americans who have been eagerly waiting for Norwegian to launch the cheapest nonstop transatlantic fares. Not only is the introductory fare ridiculously low at $65, but once the introductory period is over, passengers can still score a bargain fare as low as $99 including taxes on these routes,”
Service to Dublin from Providence, begins on July 2 with five weekly flights; Service to Shannon from Providence begins on July 3 with twice-weekly flights. Year-round service to Cork from Providence will start on July 1 with three weekly flights, and service to Belfast from Providence will be twice weekly from Providence as of July 2. Days of operations from Providence will change between the summer 2017 and the winter 2017/2018 winter season.
Material from Tourism Ireland press statements was added to this report.