Pilots descend on Oslo to slam Kjos

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He’s one of their own, but the pilot who founded Norwegian Air and is now keen to expand worldwide is facing nothing but turbulence from his fellow pilots. Members of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) descended on Oslo this week to fight what they call Norwegian’s efforts “to dodge labor laws” and gain an “unfair economic advantage” over competing carriers.

'COME FLY WITH ME:' Bjørn Kjos, chief executive of Norwegian Air Shuttle, is determined that his airline can keep flying high if it can offer a good product at a low fare, and be where the passengers. After becoming one of the largest low-fare airlines in Europe, Norwegian is now embarking on global expansion. PHOTO: Nina Berglund/newsinenglish.no

Norwegian’s boss Bjørn Kjos, a pilot himself, was all smiles last winter when he was rolling out plans for his airline’s new intercontinental service. Now he faces loud objections from pilots’ unions and other labour organizations around the world, along with ongoing problems with the Boeing 787 Dreamliners used on the long-haul routes. PHOTO: Nina Berglund/newsinenglish.no

“Norwegian Air International (NAI) has concocted a blatant plan to avoid Norway’s labour laws and contradict the US-EU air services agreement so that the company can gain an unfair advantage over airlines that do abide by the national laws and international agreements,” Capt. Lee Moak, president of ALPA, stated on Wednesday.

“If allowed to stand, NAI’s plan will unfairly threaten North American and European airlines’ ability to compete globally, as well as the jobs of hundreds of thousands of airline employees,” Moak continued.

He and the roughy 30 pilots who flew into Oslo from around the world this week to meet with government officials and US diplomats all claim that Norwegian is “cheating the system” by using cheaper Asian crews on board Norwegian’s new intercontinental flights between Europe and the US.  The so-called delegation included leaders of pilots at such airlines as Delta, United and American, Norwegian’s main rival SAS (Scandinavian Airlines), Irish carrier Aer Lingus and even the pioneering low-fare carrier in the US, Southwest, which Norwegian has imitated on its domestic routes. Representatives of the AFL-CIO, the US’ powerful labour federation, and the Association of Flight Attendants also traveled with the delegation.

They met with, among others, a state secretary in Norway’s transport ministry and an economic and commercial team at the US Embassy. Moak told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) that their message to local government officials was clear: Norwegian’s decision to register its long-haul aircraft in Ireland in order to “exploit” foreign labour puts Norway in a bad light. His group is also urging Irish authorities to reject Norwegian’s application for an air operating certificate.

Kjos and his colleagues at Norwegians have responded to the pilots’ allegations by claiming that Norwegian is within its full rights because of it plans to use aircraft registered in Ireland, which allows outsourcing of airline crews. Norwegian officials also claim that the unhappy pilots and the rival carriers that employ them are simply trying to prevent new competition.

Anne-Sissel Skånvik, communications director at Norwegian, also said that the airline is establishing new bases in the US as well and has received more than 5,000 applications from Americans seeking jobs as cabin crew on board the Norwegian long-haul flights.

“They seem to be satisfied with both our company and the terms we offer,” Skånvik told DN. She said Norwegian also has plans to hire American pilots.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund