More turbulence for local airlines

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Norway’s airline industry was caught in more turbulence this week as the country’s labour organizations intensified their conflict with Ryanair, and the country’s own low-fare carrier Norwegian Air threatened to flag out aircraft and operations. A new low-fare airline, meanwhile, was ready for take-off.

Norwegian Air has been among the airlines hit hard by air traffic delays in recent weeks, and its executives have been complaining on behalf of frustrated passengers. PHOTO: Norwegian Air

Norwegian Air is the latest airline to run into conflicts with Norwegian authorities, and now intends to register its new Boeing 787 Dreamliner jets in Ireland, home of rival Ryanair that also continues to battle Norway’s labour unions and politicians. PHOTO: Norwegian Air

It was enough to leave airline analysts, executives, government officials and passengers feeling a need to figuratively fasten their seatbelts and brace for a bumpy ride. Norwegian Air boss Bjørn Kjos, who could enjoy a high-flying stock price earlier in the week, was threatening by the end of the week to flag his long-awaited new Boeing 787 Dreamliners out of Norway, maybe even his entire company, after government officials maintained their refusal to allow his airline to fly Norwegian-registered aircraft with lower-paid Asian crews on board.

Kjos, who already has claimed that Norwegian pay levels make it impossible to compete against Asian airlines, remains committed to the planned global expansion of Norwegian Air. That’s why, as newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported this week, his airline now intends to register its new Dreamliners in Ireland, with the intention of being able to operate them on Norwegian Air’s new intercontinental routes with crews that don’t cost more than Norwegian Air’s new long-haul competitors. DN reported that Norwegian Air also sent a letter to civil aviation authority Luftfartstilsynet seeking acceptance for it to then lease the Irish-registered aircraft while retaining its Norwegian Air Operator Certificate.

Norwegian Air chief executive Bjørn Kjos says the airline will register its new aircraft in Ireland, in order to be able to hire Asian crews at Asian pay levels that will allow Norwegian to compete with Asian carriers. PHOTO: Norwegian Air

Norwegian Air chief executive Bjørn Kjos says the airline will register its new aircraft in Ireland, in order to be able to hire Asian crews at Asian pay levels that will allow Norwegian to compete with Asian carriers. PHOTO: Norwegian Air

Labour officials and Norwegian pilots, fearing for their own pay and jobs in the light of foreign competition, immediately flew to Bodø (where the civil aviation authorities were relocated in a political decentralization move) to protest Norwegian Air’s plans, but don’t seem to have much chance of stopping what they claim is Norwegian Air’s effort to circumvent Norwegian law. Norwegian Air officials insist it’s not.

“This is our way of living with Norwegian law,” Norwegian Air spokesperson Anne-Sissel Skånvik told DN. “We of course must comply with the Norwegian authorities’ demand that aircraft with foreign crews must be foreign-registered. We haven’t had any desire to register our aircraft abroad, but this is (because of) the old decision the current government has chosen to hang onto.”

Labour Minister Anniken Huitfeldt said she thought it was “sad” that Norwegian Air may opt for foreign registration but claims she can’t make compromises that put Norwegian pay and working conditions at risk. The government wants to secure a good competitive environment for Norwegian businesses, she claimed, but also must secure workers’ rights and hinder social dumping. State officials maintain that Norwegian residents subject to Norway’s high cost of living can’t be subject to the pay levels common in lower-cost Asia.

LO supports lawsuit against Ryanair
So Norwegian Air looks likely to operate with Asian cabin crews on board Irish-registered aircraft, raising comparisons to the Irish airline Ryanair that recently landed in conflict with Norwegian labour organizations and government authorities because of its low-paid cabin crews. The difference is that some of Ryanair’s relatively low-paid crews are based in Norway, and Norwegian officials thus claim they are subject to Norwegian regulations and Norwegian work standards.

Norway’s largest labour federation, LO, announced earlier this week that it will support a lawsuit filed against Ryanair by an Italian fight attendant who claims she was illegally fired by Ryanair’s crewing agency. She also has handed over her work contract, which documents pay and working conditions far below Norwegian standards. “Ryanair has put social dumping into the system, and this lawsuit is of great social significance,” Trine Lise of LO told news bureau NTB. “It’s important for all employees that this form of operation be stopped.”

Nonstop newcomer
Meanwhile, the heir to an ice cream fortune in the southern Norwegian city of Kristiansand was cleared for takeoff after his new jet landed in Norway for use as the first aircraft in his fledgling airline called Fly Nonstop.

The relatively small, 100-seat Embraer jet from Brazil will start flying routes from Kristiansand to London, Berlin, Paris, Barcelona, Palma, Nice, Parma and Dubrovnik this weekend, but Fly Nonstop founder Espen Hennig-Olsen faces skepticism from airline analysts and his rivals who don’t think the airline will survive tough competition in the turbulent airline industry.

Hennig-Olsen admits his airline is a risky venture, not least with only the one aircraft and no reserve in place at present,  but he sees a need for more direct service from Kristiansand, with style. The food served on board the aircraft comes from top Norwegian chef Trond Moi, and all seats are equipped with their own iPad despite airfares as low as NOK 1,798 (USD 310) round-trip. Fly Nonstop will also offer service from Ålesund to Nice.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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