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Roll Call on Open Skies Language in Omnibus Bill

By Admin

Norwegian Air Cites Supportive Language In Omnibus

As published by Tom Curry in Roll Call

Advisors to Norwegian Air International contacted me Wednesday to point out that I had neglected in my post on the omnibus spending bill to note an important paragraph which, they say, supports Norwegian’s argument that the Department of Transportation ought to issue a foreign air carrier permit to the low-cost airline.

Here is the paragraph that they point to:

“Nothing in this section shall prohibit, restrict or otherwise preclude the Secretary of Transportation from granting a foreign air carrier permit or an exemption to such an air carrier where such authorization is consistent with the U.S.-E.U.-Iceland-Norway Air Transport Agreement and United States law.”

Right above that paragraph is the paragraph on which I’d focused in my post Wednesday morning.

That one says that none of the funds made available by the bill may be used to approve a foreign air carrier permit of an airline which operates under the U.S.-European Union-Iceland-Norway “open skies” agreement, if such approval would contravene U.S. law “or Article 17 bis of the U.S.-E.U.-Iceland-Norway Air Transport Agreement.”

Article 17 bis says that the “opportunities created by the Agreement are not intended to undermine labour standards” of the countries that sign the agreement.

U.S. labor unions say that NAI uses non-union contractors and will undermine pilots and other employees represented by unions, although Bjorn Kjos, head of NAI’s parent company, said last month that many of his European employees are represented by unions and that he wouldn’t care if his American pilots wanted to be represented by the Air Line Pilots Association.

The two paragraphs in the spending bill seem to cancel each other out, one indicating that the Department of Transportation should not approve NAI’s application for a foreign air carrier permit, but the other saying that approval is not prohibited.

What’s significant for Norwegian is that the “nothing… shall prohibit” language in the omnibus bill was not in the Transportation-HUD spending bill which the House passed in July which included an amendment that would have blocked NAI’s efforts to enter the U.S. market.

Norwegian issued a statement Wednesday saying the new language in the omnibus “paves the way” for Department of Transportation approval of its permit application and “sends a decisive message” that DOT should approve it.

Ed Wytkind, president of the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, saw the spending bill quite differently: “Congress is affirming a bipartisan view that no foreign air carrier permits may be granted that violate the terms of Open Skies agreements, including the crucial labor protection provision in the U.S.-EU pact.”

In the end, determining whether to grant NAI a foreign air carrier permit is up to Obama administration officials who, so far, seem disinclined to do so.