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NAI Delivers a Timeout in Washington from Partisan Rancor

In this time of extreme partisan fighting, there’s not much in Washington on which politicians agree. Enter Norwegian Air International, or NAI. This airline’s plan to launch new trans-Atlantic service into the U.S. has become a galvanizing issue in Washington for politicians across the political spectrum who recognize a scam that will harm our economy when they see one.

NAI’s bid for approval from our government to begin its new service has landed in Washington, sort of like that proverbial lead balloon. Its plan? It will register its airline in Ireland – but it won’t actually fly in and out of there. It will hire flight crews not in Norway, but in Thailand and employed on individual employment contracts with a Singaporean hiring agency. Why would a Norwegian airline do such a thing? It’s simple. To avoid strong Norwegian labor and social laws and to evade the airline’s existing collective bargaining relationships with its own employees.

The good news is that the groundswell of opposition to the NAI scheme continued to build yesterday when the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) solicited comments on its August 4, 2014 Notice regarding the applicability of Article 17 bis, an employee protection provision embodied in the U.S.-European Union (EU) Open Skies agreement, which sets out rules on how air carriers on both sides of the Atlantic, such as NAI, can engage in new trans-Atlantic air service. You see, nothing in the agreement says that a European airline can forum-shop for cheap labor around the globe and then apply to provide new service into the U.S. as if it is a European air carrier. I have to wonder if NAI has a secret appendix to the U.S.-EU agreement permitting it to game the accord that no one else has seen.

So, back to yesterday’s flurry of filings into the DOT proceeding.

TTD was joined by several of our member unions, including the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, the Transport Workers Union of America, and the Air Line Pilots Association, to condemn the NAI application awaiting a decision from the DOT. Our labor partners overseas – the European Cockpit Association and the European Transport Workers’ Federation, both based in Europe – joined us in a massive demonstration of unity. Representatives Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) and Peter DeFazio (D-OR) also each filed comments asking DOT to deny NAI’s application. And numerous major airlines in the U.S. and Europe – including United, Delta, Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), American, Air France, Austrian Airlines, and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines – filed comments with the same message: #denyNAI.

Even the European Commission is under siege for its early support from NAI’s scheme: one set of comments to the DOT cites that several of the Member States of the European Parliament have agreed “that the business model proposed by Norwegian Air International is questionable,” and explains that questions Members have posted to the Commission on NAI’s business model “have been answered only partly and superficially.” Even many Europeans are wholly unconvinced that NAI’s scheme should be permitted.

This array of voices sends a clear message to DOT and the Obama Administration: granting NAI an exemption and foreign air carrier permit would be a mistake for the U.S. economy and airline industry and for American aviation workers who grow weary of government policies and decisions that encourage the low-road business model NAI is peddling.

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