[As published by John Mulligan in Independent.ie]
The long-haul arm of Scandinavian airline Norwegian has been granted a licence to operate from Ireland in a move that will infuriate US aviation unions.
The long-haul unit, Norwegian Air International (NAI), has been flying routes from Scandinavia to the US and Thailand and had sought to base the subsidiary in Ireland. From next summer, it will launch low-cost flights from London to the United States, and it has also sought to fly to additional US destinations.
US aviation unions have been campaigning in Norway, Ireland and the US to prevent NAI from being granted an Air Operator Certificate and operating licence that would enable it to base its headquarters in Ireland.
They have claimed that Norwegian is attempting to bypass strict labour laws in its home country, and seeking to to hire cheaper foreign crews, by locating in Ireland – something the airline has strenuously denied.
Last weekend, the head of the US-based union umbrella group Transportation Trades Department (TDD), Ed Wytkind, wrote to Transport Minister Leo Varadkar urging him to “carefully consider” the implications of awarding NAI an AOC.
The general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, David Begg, backed US union concerns, telling Mr Varadkar the reservations expressed were “well founded”.
In a letter seen by the Irish Independent, Mr Begg told Mr Varadkar: It is abhorrent to the trade union movement that Ireland should allow itself to be used to undermine collective bargaining in another country.”
Norwegian says that suggestions it’s using Ireland as a “flag of convenience” is “false and misleading” and that it wants to use Ireland as its base to avail of EU air traffic rights.
Norwegian Air International won’t be offering flights from Ireland, but will have its administrative headquarters in Dublin.
Norwegian said it had chosen to base the long-haul arm in Ireland for a number of reasons, including the fact that the country is a “considerable cluster for the aviation industry”.
Ireland is one of the world’s biggest centres for aircraft leasing. The Boeing Dreamliners Norwegian’s long-haul arm uses are registered in Ireland.
“The fact is that Norwegian could have based its long-haul company in any other European country and still used American and Asian crew,” said Norwegian in a statement this afternoon.
It added: “Recently, both competitors and unions have made a number of false allegations against Norwegian and Ireland on this matter. The EU’s transport authorities, the Irish authorities and Norwegian have repeatedly refuted this.”