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Aviation regulators in Ireland on Wednesday granted Norwegian Air an air operator’s certificate, a step toward the airline’s goal of flying low-price routes between the U.S., Europe and Asia.

If the U.S. Department of Transportation approves a pending application by the airline for recognition of its new long-haul base, Norwegian will fly Boeing 787s on trans-Atlantic routes between the U.S. and major European cities, and from there on to Bangkok and other Asian destinations.

Norwegian had previously ordered 10 Boeing 787s to get its low-cost, long-haul business started. Thursday, the airline agreed to lease four more of the larger 787-9 models from aircraft lessor International Lease Finance Corp. (ILFC).

Chief executive Bjorn Kjos has promised to introduce dramatically lower fares to Europe, including London, initially from New York and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., but soon also from Los Angeles, San Francisco and Orlando, Fla.

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That plan is strongly opposed by the major U.S. passenger airlines and the airline pilots union, which have asked the Department of Transportation to refuse Norwegian the permit it needs.

However, also on Wednesday, U.S. freight carrier FedEx weighed in with strong support for Norwegian and for the principle of deregulating international aviation.

In a submission to the Department of Transportation, FedEx said Norwegian “should be permitted into the U.S. marketplace … as an airline that seeks to create U.S. jobs, purchase U.S. products and offer U.S. consumers an innovative service.”

Barring it from doing so, the FedEx filing said, “will result in a crisis of confidence in the U.S. push for air services liberalization.”

Norwegian chose Ireland as its long-haul base so that it can operate direct flights to Asia from any European Union country, not only Norway, which does not have a so-called “open skies” pact with Asian nations.

By choosing Ireland, rather than one of the countries where Airbus makes airplane sections, Norwegian also ensures that it can get export credit financing for its jet purchases.

Dominic Gates: (206) 464-2963 or

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