The U.S. Department of Transportation's tentative approval last week of Norwegian Air Shuttle's expanded flying rights could open new routes between the U.S. and Europe, including at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

The decision, announced late last week, grants tentative approval of U.S. flights to an Irish-based subsidiary of Norwegian Air Shuttle, a low-cost European airline. Its potential impact was discussed at the Metropolitan Airports Commission board meeting earlier this week.

While Norwegian already flies to a few U.S. markets, its expansion here is limited by the air rights its home country of Norway has negotiated with the U.S.

Ireland, unlike Norway, is a part of the European Union and therefore has more expansion options in the United States.

The decision has been fiercely fought by the airlines and its labor groups, but the U.S. DOT said it had no legal footing to deny the Irish subsidiary's request to fly to the U.S.

"It certainly does improve not only Minneapolis-St. Paul's chances or opportunities to help recruit service to the area, but along with every other city in the U.S., so it is good news in the realm of air service development," Brian Peters, MAC's assistant director of air service business development, told the board. "We will certainly be following up with our partners in the Norwegian community."

He also said that since the news broke, the Mall of America has received calls from some of its marketing partners in Norway about "renewed and perhaps improved interest in service from Norway to Minneapolis-St. Paul."

Doug Killian, the Mall of America's senior director of international tourism, did not directly comment on the Norwegian Air decision. But, in a statement, he said, "The Nordic markets collectively are the fourth-largest international market for visitors to the United States. Mall of America and the Minnesota travel industry encourage and support new international flight services, which are key to attracting foreign visitors."

According to survey results from Minneapolis-based Sons of Norway, a company and foundation dedicated to promoting Norwegian culture and heritage, travel to Norway ranks in the top three areas of interest for its members.

"There's a significant percentage of the Minnesota population that is self-identified as Norwegian heritage," said Eivind Heiberg, chief executive of Sons of Norway. "The number is somewhere in the 800,000-plus range."

Passengers at Minneapolis-St. Paul can now fly directly to several European cities, including Amsterdam, Frankfurt, London, Paris and Reykjavik.

Norwegian Air did not return requests for comment.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Kristen Leigh Painter • 612-673-4767