Following weeks of uncertainty since President Donald Trump’s controversial immigration order, an Irish Government review has given the all-clear to US pre-clearance arrangements at Shannon and Dublin airports. Further good news for the airport, is that Norwegian Airlines has announced that it will commence low-cost air travel to the American east coast from early July.

The latter follows a protracted process to win the approval of the US Transportation Department for a foreign carriers permit to fly from the three main Irish airports. Regarding pre-clearance, Taoiseach Enda Kenny had ordered a complete review of US pre-clearance facilities in Shannon and Dublin after the Trump administration issued an executive order banning refugees from eight mainly Muslin countries.

Mr Trump’s order caused much controversy, not least in the US itself where thousands took to the streets in protest. The issue was also opposed by the US Circuit Court of Appeals and by a federal court in Seattle. In addition, Acting US Attorney General, Sally Fields, resigned after announcing that the US Justice Department could not legally defend President Trump’s order.

Officials from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport met their US counterparts to discuss operational matters regarding US pre-clearance at Irish airports. During a discussion on the President Trump’s Executive Order on Immigration, the US side set out the position regarding the legal challenges and advised that consideration was being given to the issue of another executive order in the coming days.

Irish representatives have clarified that following the Taoiseach’s request for a review, it was determined that pre-clearance is a valuable service for Ireland, delivering benefits for passengers, airlines, airports as well as the Irish economy. It was stated that there has been no breach of the Treaty of the Functioning of the EU and that the operation of the Ireland-US Pre-clearance Agreement does not give rise to any breach of obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.  On that basis, the Department’s view was that US pre-clearance arrangements in Dublin and Shannon Airports should remain in place.

Meanwhile, the decision by Norwegian Airlines to begin no-frills travel to the US has been widely welcomed. Two new direct services from Shannon will land at Stewart International Airport and Providence Green Airport, both 90-minutes from New York and Boston respectively. Fares will cost from €69, however after 5,000 flights were sold within six hours the cheapest fare available ex-Shannon on 5th July is €269 or €334 with one checked-in bag and an in-flight meal.

Aer Lingus reacted by tweeting its new rival, “No Free bag? No free seat assignment? No free meal? No pre clearance? Cheers, you’re grand.”

Tourism, business and political representatives have welcomed the new routes. Tourism Ireland expects them to boost visitor numbers as they offer more choice to prospective American tourists. Shannon Airport managing director Andrew Murphy pointed out that they had engaged with Norwegian Air International (NAI) from 2014. He is particularly delighted to be welcoming the 737 MAX aircraft, the newest technology on the transatlantic.

Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland, is looking forward to working closely with Norwegian to maximise the promotion of the new routes from New York and Providence. He added, “As an island, the importance of convenient, direct, non-stop flights cannot be overstated, they are absolutely critical to achieving growth in inbound tourism.” Transport Minister Shane Ross said the Irish Government has been supportive of NAI’s plans from the outset and he is delighted that the airline can now bring these plans to fruition.

Fine Gael deputy Joe Carey TD pictured at Shannon Airport.

Fine Gael deputy Joe Carey TD pictured at Shannon Airport.

Fine Gael Deputy Joe Carey noted that negotiations with NAI began shortly after Shannon became an independent entity and said he doubted if these negotiations could have been brought to such a successful conclusion under the old regime. Independent Deputy Michael Harty stated, “This is an historic announcement that brings a new model of low cost transatlantic flying to Shannon.” Keeping his options open he added, “There may be some concern that low cost transatlantic flying may affect existing carriers. On the other hand, NAI may well grow the market and increase passenger numbers across the Atlantic as Ryanair has done on short haul routes.”

Norwegian CEO Bjorn Kjos commented, “It has long been our ambition to grow our Irish operation with new transatlantic routes but these plans simply wouldn’t have been possible without the significant support we have received throughout Ireland over the last 3 years. We are hugely grateful for this continued support and are delighted to finally unveil our plans to shake up transatlantic travel with ground-breaking fares and never before seen routes in Ireland. The cost of transatlantic travel has been too high for too long so by connecting Irish cities with smaller US airports, we can offer some truly affordable fares, allowing as many people as possible to fly.”