REGIONAL – And now for something completely different... Norwegian Airlines, Europe's ninth largest air carrier by passenger numbers, has undertaken a bold bit of expansion.
In 2013, Norwegian launched a "long haul" operation, shifting away from its core businesses of high frequency domestic flights in Scandinavia and holiday traffic to the Mediterranean and Canary Islands. Now, they'll have daily flights from Stewart Airport in Orange County to several airports in Ireland, as well as Edinburgh, Scotland, and Bergen, Norway... and for as little as $65 each way.
As you might expect, all the cheapest flights have sold out completely. However, the airline offerings are still well below standard prices from Northeast airports to anywhere in Europe. And by opening up less heavily travelled routes to Dublin, Belfast, and Edinburgh, the idea of celebrating St. Patrick's Day in Ireland's capital city, or hosting Irish visitors here, has become as real as a $100 bill.
In addition to these city destinations, Norwegian will also have a service to Shannon, Ireland's international hub airport, from where you can go almost anywhere in Europe and beyond.
This service will bring the "international" back to Stewart Airport, which has always struggled a bit in the shadow of the metro trio of airports at Newark, JFK and LaGuardia. Plus, there'll now be an $18 bus shuttle service provided to the Port Authority bus terminal in Manhattan, whose mother agency operates all the region's airports and is foreseeing a major expansion in passenger numbers for Stewart, from a current 275,000 to about 400,000 this year and possibly 700,000 in 2018.
"This new service is a great milestone for Stewart International Airport," said Port Authority Executive Director Pat Foye in a statement. "Connectivity to new destinations is vital for our airport to realize further growth and remain competitive."
Susan Havemale, director of Tourism for Orange County, sees this development from the other end of the telescope.
"There will be more Irish tourists coming. Many Europeans come to the Hudson Valley," she said this week. "Some people come to America more than once, even many times; they like to explore. They've done New York City and Washington DC, Florida and so on. The Hudson Valley is a major tourist attraction. They come here looking for charming villages with an American culture. And they come for the experience of the countryside, our mountains and lakes, and they're going up and down the Hudson Valley... Our hotels are a lot less expensive than those in the city. We also have good rail connections. Stay here, travel down to the city for a show, a museum, and mix things up with visits to our mountains and lakes."
Regional real estate expert RJ Smith, meanwhile, said that as one who travels quite a bit, he's excited by the Norwegian entry.
"There are some new, added venues about to open up," he pointed out. "The Montreign Resort Casino is one of them and Legoland in Goshen is another. Then there are waterparks and other resorts and all our historical sites, cultural sites and things like Storm King, where I'm on the board and I can tell you that many Europeans come to visit. Storm King is a world renowned site for large scale outdoor sculpture."
Smith added the allure of Woodbury Commons, a shopping experience that draws visitors even from as far away as Japan. But also challenges.
"We have to market the region, make sure that people know what we have here. And with Stewart airport right here, it's easy to get here, especially now with Norwegian Airlines opening up these flights," he said, before adding a bit more of the personal. "I love to visit Europe, and would love to go back to Ireland and England. To be able to do that from Stewart... there's no question that beats Newark and JFK hands down. If Stewart can grow to serve our market, and the region, it brings in Northern New Jersey, Pennsylvania too. This has major potential to provide an economic boost here."