Labor unions that oppose Norwegian Air Shuttle’s effort to gain a foreign air carrier permit for its Irish subsidiary to fly to the U.S. have garnered support from the U.S. Congress. A bipartisan group of 188 members of the House has asked the Department of Transportation (DOT) to deny the application.
In a letter to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, dated November 24, the lawmakers state that Norwegian’s application is not in the public interest “and would unfairly put domestic airlines at a competitive disadvantage.” They “reiterate our belief” that Norwegian’s planned business model would violate the U.S.-European Union Open Skies Agreement. Fifty-six Republicans signed the letter.
Last December, Norwegian applied for both a foreign air carrier permit and an exemption for its Norwegian Air International (NAI) subsidiary to conduct scheduled and charter operations to and from the United States. The DOT on September 2 dismissed the exemption, which would have allowed NAI to operate while the department reviewed the permit application. That application is pending.
Unions, which along with several major U.S. and European carriers oppose the application, charge that the airline seeks to evade Norwegian and international labor laws and pay pilots less by establishing NAI as an Irish airline. “NAI’s business plan, which involves basing in Ireland despite no plans to fly in or out of that country, and hiring workers based in Bangkok through a Singaporean hiring agency, all to avoid Norway’s strong labor protections, tax laws and regulations, is a clear violation” of the Open Skies agreement, the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, said in a statement announcing the congressional support.
Norwegian Air Shuttle CEO Bjørn Kjos, addressing the International Aviation Club in Washington, D.C., on November 20, said opponents are attempting to block competition from the low-fare carrier. “The big network airlines and their unions are spending millions of dollars on slanderous campaigns and lobbying,” Kjos said, according to a transcript. NAI “is planning to have the same set-up as its parent company, Norwegian Air Shuttle, which is operating flights to and from the U.S. today: the same airplanes, the same pilots, all of them with European licenses, the same cabin crew—most of them Americans—and the same destinations.” The airline’s application for a foreign air carrier permit “is in full accordance” with the U.S.-EU Open Skies Agreement, he argued.
The war of words coincided with a special meeting the joint committee that oversees the Open Skies agreement held in Washington, D.C., on November 25. Olivier Onidi, the European Commission’s acting director of Mobility and Transport, requested the meeting to discuss the NAI permit application and the DOT’s restrictions on wet leasing of aircraft and crew by EU carriers for international operations, according to a State Department official. The committee did not issue a statement after the meeting.