Norwegian Air still faces a battle in US

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Members of the US Congress on both sides of the aisle are not quietly accepting a US Department of Transportation (DOT) decision that finally grants traffic rights to Oslo-based Norwegian Air’s Irish subsidiary. Opponents claim Norwegian’s expansion in the US market will cost American and European jobs, while Norwegian Air claims it will create more of them.

Another Norwegian unit, Arctic Aviation Assets, ordered 30 new Airbus A321 Long Range jets, that will need routes to fly when they hit the market in 2019. Norwegian already runs a growing fleet of long-distance Boeing 787 Dreamliners. PHOTO: Norwegian Air

Another Norwegian Air subsidiary, Arctic Aviation Assets, has ordered 30 new Airbus A321 Long Range jets, that will need routes to fly when they hit the market in 2019. Norwegian already runs a growing fleet of long-distance Boeing 787 Dreamliners. PHOTO: Norwegian Air

“This is a slap in the face against American workers,” claimed three US Representatives, including one from the Republican Party. They and several labour unions intend to ask incoming US President Donald Trump, who made a huge point of protecting American jobs against foreign competition, to reverse the DOT’s decision.

The US politicians claim that additional traffic rights for Norwegian Air will reward countries that “crush” obligations to protect US employees. Norwegian has used Asian crews on many of its intercontinental flights, for example, who often accept lower pay and benefits than European or American workers.

Norwegian Air officials continue to scoff at the opposition to their major expansion plans. “American authorities have now swept aside biased criticism from the labour unions and recognized that Norwegian Air, through our EU-based company, will contribute towards creating even more new jobs in the US, both in the air and in tourism,” Norwegian Air spokesman Lasse Sandaker-Nielsen told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) on Monday.

Norwegian Air officials had been frustrated by the US authorities, who spent three years evaluating its application for landing rights and traffic routes. Sandaker-Nielsen now claims the DOT authorities “understand that folks want cheaper airline tickets to Europe, something Norwegian will continue to offer.” He also downplayed the threat of Trump of reversing the DOT decision: “Trump has expressed that he wants more American jobs, and we will contribute to that through establishment of new bases both for pilots and cabin personnel.”

DOT: ‘No other choice’
On Thursday, reported DN, the EU lost patience with the DOT and accused its officials of violating the “Open Skies” agreement that gives US and EU airlines the right to fly over each other’s territory. The EU authorities demanded that Norwegian’s case be decided in a court of arbitration. The next day (Friday night Norwegian time, and in the midst of a state budget crisis in Norway), the DOT finally gave Norwegian Air the green light. DOT stated that even though “we understand” the opposition to Norwegian Air’s plans, it had been advised that the law and the US’ bilateral agreements “don’t give us any other choice” than to approve Norwegian’s application.

“We are very satisfied that the US authorities have given our EU company permission to fly to and from the US,” Norwegian Air founder and CEO Bjørn Kjos stated after finally being told that Norwegian Air International would receive a so-called “Foreign Air Carrier Permit.” Kjos noted that the permission means Norwegian “can continue its global expansion with full strength and open new routes to exciting destinations in the whole world.”

Norwegian Air claims it will create more jobs, both in the air and within tourism. PHOTO: Norwegian Air

Norwegian Air claims it will create more jobs, both in the air and within tourism. PHOTO: Norwegian Air

The Oslo-based airline, which launched operations as a domestic carrier in Norway in 2002 to compete against Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), claimed it has won “broad support” for its expansion from European authorities, airports, other airlines, politicians, consumers and others. That’s disputed by critics, who include Swapa (Southwest Airlines’ pilots’ organization) and other labour unions including Norway’s own Parat, which represents cabin crews among other employee groups. “We know that Norwegian has used Asian labour and that they want to open new routes,” Vegard Einan, deputy leader of Parat told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “We fear that American and European workers won’t have a chance of competing against the pay and work conditions in other parts of the world.”

Norwegian Air needed the route permission to justify its massive fleet expansion that’s now underway. The company has a large orderbook of aircraft, including more new Boeing 787 Dreamliners, that haven’t yet been delivered and need to be put to use.

“This (the DOT approval) means first and foremost that we can exploit our fleet fully by flying both to the US and other parts of the world,” Sandaker-Nielsen said, adding that the approval also will give Norwegian Air “more seamless operations.”

Norwegian Air already flies into several US cities, using its Oslo-based parent company’s traffic rights. The first new routes through its Irish unit are expected to run between the US East Coast and Shannon, Dublin and Cork.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund