[As published by Keith Laing in The Hill]
Emboldened by a decision on Tuesday by the Department of Transportation (DOT) to dismiss an attempt by Norwegian Airlines to expedite approval of its bid to gain access to airports in the U.S., labor groups in Washington are pushing the agency now to completely reject the Scandinavian company’s request.
The DOT ruled on Tuesday that Norwegian Airlines did not qualify for an exemption that allows foreign carriers who are seeking access to U.S. airports under the Open Skies agreement to begin providing flights while their full applications are still being review by federal regulators.
The airline’s bid to bid to fly to U.S. airports has been controversial because the company plans to register its airplanes in Ireland, which is a member of the European Union, instead of its own home country, which is not.
The Transportation Department said it was dismissing the Norwegian Airlines request for expedited approval, but not throwing out its application for U.S. access completely.
Labor unions that represent various parts of the U.S. airline industry said immediately after the decision was rendered that the department should put the brakes on the entire Norwegian Airlines effort to fly to the U.S. using planes that are registered elsewhere.
“NAI must not be granted a foreign air carrier permit and be allowed to go forward,” AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department President Ed Wytkind said in a statement. “We will continue to insist that the DOT strongly enforce the landmark employee protections it negotiated in the Open Skies agreement. Only by rejecting NAI’s application will the DOT send a clear message that it will enforce worker protections embodied in aviation trade agreements.”
Officials from the airline sought on Tuesday to downplay the impact of the DOT decision to deny its request for expedited approval on its broader application to fly to the U.S.
“While we think it is unfortunate that DOT feels the need to further delay issuance of our permit, which has been pending now for over six months, Norwegian Air International stands behind its business – from its pilots and cabin crew to its affordable fare model to its desire to bring competition to the transatlantic market – and looks forward to receiving approval to operate without further delay,” CEO Asgeir Nyseth said in a statement.
The bid by Norwegian Airlines to gain entry into the U.S. and European Union markets has roiled the aviation industry for months. The airline has argued that critics are unfairly criticizing its business practices because they are trying to protect their current positions in the international flight markets.
Labor groups that represent U.S. airline employees have said Norwegian’s inclusion in the Open Skies Act would undermine the entire premise of the pact because it would be difficult for Irish officials to inspect Norwegian Air planes because they company would not fly to the country it is planning to register its fleet with.
Air Line Pilots Association President Lee Moak agreed with Wytkind that the Transportation Department should issue a full rejection of Norwegian Air’s U.S. application.
“While [Tuesday’s] decision is extremely significant, the DOT’s work is not yet complete in making certain that NAI is not permitted to exploit international aviation policy and law to gain an unfair economic advantage over U.S. airlines,” Moak said. “The DOT must take the next step and deny NAI’s application for a foreign air carrier permit to serve U.S. markets.”
“[Tuesday’s] decision puts the Norwegian Air International scheme on hold, but it doesn’t end the threat it poses to fair competition and U.S. aviation jobs,” Moak continued. “The DOT must heed the call made from so many in Congress from both sides of the aisle, labor groups on both sides of the Atlantic, and the European Commission’s own labor-management organization and deny NAI’s application for a U.S. foreign air carrier permit.”