Low-cost carrier Norwegian won initial approval on Friday to expand its transatlantic operations to the US.

The US Department of Transportation (DoT) issued an order proposing to grant a foreign air carrier permit to Irish subsidiary Norwegian Air International.

If made final, the permit will allow Norwegian Air International (NAI) to start flights between the US and European Union countries under open skies rules, including the first service between Boston and Cork.

The deal is being seen as a major victory for Europe’s third-largest budget carrier in the face of fierce opposition from major US airlines such as American, Delta and United.

The plan was also opposed by all major US unions representing airline pilots and crew.

The DoT’s order recognised that Norwegian’s application raised an extensive number of filings both in opposition and support.

“The substantive and regulatory points raised by the parties reflected the novel and complex nature of this case which required careful and comprehensive DoT review,” transportation department said.

The “DoT acknowledged that the labour-related concerns raised by NAI’s opponents warranted proceeding with caution and careful consideration. 

“Given the importance of the arguments raised, especially those about the legal effect of the labour provision of the US-EU agreement, the department went to great lengths to give full consideration to such issues.”

However, the DoT added that the provision in the US-EU agreement that addresses labour “does not afford a basis for rejecting an applicant that is otherwise qualified to receive a permit”. 

It added: “In this regard, the order states that NAI appears to meet DoT’s normal standards for award of a permit and that there appears to be no legal basis to deny NAI’s application.”

The decision was issued after consultation with lawyers at the US Justice and State departments.

Norwegian Group chief executive, Bjørn Kjos, said: “A final approval, based on the open skies agreement between the US and EU, will be win-win for consumers and the economy on both sides of the Atlantic. It will allow Norwegian to expand our US operations.

“Our continued presence in the US will create thousands of jobs and generate tens of millions of dollars of economic activity for the group’s US destinations.”

Norwegian said it “intends to continue hiring hundreds of US-based crew members, bring hundreds of thousands of European tourists to the United States, continue to offer the American people affordable fares and efficiently utilise an $18.5 billion order of planes from American manufacturer Boeing”.

Norwegian currently has a firm order of 149 Boeing 737s and 787 Dreamliners. The airline pointed out that has taken delivery of 103 Boeing aircraft through purchases or lease arrangements in the past seven years.