Passengers in Cork and Shannon are now likely to be deprived of their direct Norwegian Airlines routes to the US for nearly the entire summer season because of the recent grounding of the Boeing MAX 8 aircraft fleet.

Ryanair, which had placed an order of 135 next-generation Boeing aircraft in its MAX 200 version, said that it may now be unable to introduce the planes into its fleet before late August.

The Irish airline had scheduled to bring in five 737-MAX 200s, which are the modified versions of the MAX 8, by around June. A further 50 planes were scheduled for delivery before the beginning of the 2020 season.

However, Ryanair insists that its schedules will be largely unaffected by this recent grounding and that it has a network that is fully catered for by its fleet of 400 Boeing 737-800 series planes.

Deirdre Clune, Ireland South MEP, pointed out that while all the requisite safety measures had to be implemented for the passengers’ well-being, airlines such as Norwegian ought to do everything in their power to restore their crucial US routes from Shannon and Cork.

Thanks to a replacement aircraft, Norwegian has maintained its direct US flights from Dublin. However, passengers booked fly to the US from Cork and Shannon have been offered a bus service to Dublin for their onward flights or the option of a full refund.

Ms Clune said that she was supportive of the measures taken by the airline which were necessary to ensure the safety of passengers. “However, passengers travelling on transatlantic flights from Cork and Shannon airports must be taken care of while the flights are not in operation from these airports,” she said. “I think that these flights are very important for Cork airport in particular and I hope to see them back to their regular schedule once all the safety checks have been completed,” Ms. Clune concluded.

The Cork Airport is one of the fastest expanding European airports at the moment and is well on course for a growth of more than 8% in 2019 alone. Passenger numbers went up by 10% in February alone.

The entire fleet of the Boeing 737 MAX was ground all over the world following a fatal crash in Ethiopia in which all 157 people on board died. The plane crashed just 10 minutes after take-off. Michael Ryan, a father of two and an Irish national also died in the tragedy. He was 39 years old and an engineer with the UN food programme.

The tragedy was the second fatal accident in five months involving the brand new jet. Another Boeing 737 MAX 8 had crashed into the sea off the Indonesian coast just before Christmas. After it emerged that an anti-stall system may have been linked with both the tragedies, the global fleet was grounded for safety concerns.

Boeing has since developed a software upgrade for the aircraft’s anti-stall system that was involved. However, a regulatory briefing note has indicated that the aircraft will likely not be cleared to resume services worldwide until August.

An international committee, the Joint Authorities Technical Review Committee, will commence a joint examination of the Boeing 737 MAX update by 29th April, 2019. The committee, which includes the European EASA and the American FAA, will also include aviation authorities from Canada, Brazil, China, United Arab Emirates, Japan, Singapore and NASA.

As it has now emerged, the evaluation of the Boeing 737 MAX 8 software upgrades may take up to 90 days which means that even if everything goes according to plans, the aircraft may not be cleared for resumption of services until August at the earliest.

The grounding of the 737 MAX fleet has already cost the American manufacturer an estimated $1 billion. Norwegian has also bore the brunt of the grounding as one of the most affected airlines in the world. 18 of its planes were taken out of service.

In a letter to Ms. Clune, Bjorrn Kjos, Norwegian boss, said that the airline had made every effort to minimize the disruption involved. “This development at no notice has resulted in the need for an urgent, major overhaul of planned aircraft deployment,” he said.

He further indicated that the airline had taken measures to minimize disruptions, including the substitution of the larger Boeing 787 Dreamliner on some services, wet-leasing of alternative aircraft, and securing extended-range ETOPS approval for alternative aircraft. All these, he said, would maintain services and coach transportation to and from where the airline’s alternative flights operate from.

With its fleet of new Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft, the Scandinavian airline had managed to offer cut-price transatlantic services from Dublin, Shannon and Cork to Boston and New York.

At the moment, Dublin’s airport services to US destinations such as Boston and New York are being facilitated by a new Boeing 787 Dreamliner.