US fleet boycotts Norwegian Air

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Four of the largest American airlines are lobbying United States transport authorities to ban Norwegian Air flights from landing in the country. The US airlines claim Norwegian’s Irish-registered fleet and use of Asian personnel with cheaper working conditions violates an aviation agreement between the US and the European Union, giving Norwegian an unfair competitive advantage.

Norwegian Air's first new Boeing 787 Dreamliner finally landed at Oslo's main airport at Gardermoen on June 30. The airline has now begun testing them before putting them into service on Norwegian's new long-distance routes to Bangkok, New York and Fort Lauderdale. PHOTO: Norwegian Air

Norwegian Air invested in Boeing 787 Dreamliners to operate long haul flights between Asia, Norway and the USA. The planes were plagued by technical problems, delaying the intercontinental service. Now American pilots and airlines are challenging Norwegian’s US routes, claiming the use of lower paid Asian employees violates an EU/US aviation agreement. PHOTO: Norwegian Air

American Airlines, Delta, United and US Airways have joined the fight against Norwegian Air, following complaints made by a powerful American airline pilots’ organization to the Department of Transport last week, newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported.

The American fleet is angry Norwegian is using its Thai-based crew to fly long-haul routes between Bangkok, Oslo and New York. Some personnel earn less than NOK 3,000 (USD 500) a month, a fraction of local Norwegian wages. The US pilots and airlines say it’s a blatant attempt to get around EU/US laws and agreements, using a loophole to beat the competition.

Norwegian has denied any wrongdoing, saying it has stuck to the rules and will continue to do so. “These airlines have dominated the skies over the Atlantic, and keep ticket prices high,” Anne-Sissel Skånvik, Norwegian’s communications chief told DN. “They certainly don’t want competition.”

“Establishing in the EU was done to get traffic rights that we don’t have now,” Skånvik said. “It’s difficult to think that the Americans will pursue a policy where a license given to a European Economic Agreement country isn’t a problem, such as it is today, but a license to a European company is out of the question.”

Norwegian’s main rival, Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) has also raised concerns over Norwegian’s moves to slash personnel costs. SAS told DN last week the US airlines’ bid to get Norwegian’s American permits revoked will raise issues of principle at an international level.

Financial analysts are also watching the case to see how Norwegian fares in the US. “Norwegian has determined that much of its long haul will be linked to the American market, so it’s important there’s not too much nonsense in the establishment of the new routes,” Preben Rasch-Olsen from research and advisory firm Carnegie told DN. “Norwegian is groundbreaking in many ways, both in how they think and act. The American companies see Norwegian as a threat.”

newsinenglish.no/Emily Woodgate