THERE have been calls for increased national funding to promote Cork abroad after Norwegian Air announced it was to axe its route between Cork and the US east coast during the winter months.
The flights to Providence, Rhode Island, began with much fanfare in July of last year and initially seemed popular with passengers in both directions.
But the airline said this week it will operate as a summer only service next year, with flights suspended from November until March. It made the decision after a commercial review of its entire network and Cork is not the only airport affected.
“Following a comprehensive review of their services, Norwegian has decided to suspend some routes during the quieter winter season due to lower demand, including a number to Boston Providence from Belfast, Edinburgh, Shannon and Cork,” Kevin Cullinane, Head of Communications at Cork Airport, said.
Cork South Central TD Micheal McGrath, Fianna Fáil’s finance spokesman, said it was a bitter pill to swallow.
“It is deeply disappointing news for Cork and the entire region and I think there is a need to revisit the amount of resources that are put into marketing Cork and the wider region on an international basis,” he said.
“I know airport management has done everything they possibly can to win this investment for Cork and the priority has to be to protect it and ensure that the route is properly marketed. The national funding is going to have to be made available because we cannot let the opportunity of a long-term secure, transatlantic route from Cork slip through our grasp. The opportunity may not arise again for a generation. There is a certainly a need for greater resources from the state to support this route.”
Tánaiste Simon Coveney emphasised the positives for Cork: “The scaling back of the number of flights to Providence is disappointing but it’s important to note that the route has strong summer bookings and Cork Airport is expected to see a growth in flights this year to more than 40 destinations.”
Mr Cullinane echoed this, saying: “Sales have been buoyant for this summer and hopefully that will continue but the winter months have proven to be more challenging to Providence, not just from Cork.”
Neil Grant of the Irish Hotel Federation also pointed to Norwegian’s overall decision as a reason not to be too disheartened.
He said the focus now needs to be on driving passenger numbers to ensure the safety of the summer flights.
“This time last year we have no transatlantic route so March to October is not a catastrophe, we need to do everything we can to promote it,” he said. “Cork Airport have worked their backsides of to get this route and make a success of it, I have great faith in them.”
He said the hotels and other stakeholders would do everything to support the route.
Cork Business Association CEO Lawrence Owens also wanted to focus on the positives.
“We have to look at the glass as half-full rather than half-empty - we have a very strong summer route and that will extend into next year,” he said.
“The important thing is that we all the stakeholders in Cork need to work together now to focus our efforts and to promote and market Cork in the States and in the Providence area.
“It is disappointing but we have the summer flights, we have a direct transatlantic route, which we thought we never would have. So let’s get up of our backsides and work together to market Cork really aggressively.”