Norwegian Air finds loopholes

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Norwegian Air moved its long-haul operations to Ireland with great fanfare over the past year giving it the right to use Asian crews, which American airlines claimed circumvented EU/US aviation agreements. As Norwegian Air’s fight for approvals to fly into the US drags on, the company is considering moving some operations back to Norway, with Chief Executive Bjørn Kjos claiming a loophole in the Norwegian law will let them continue to use Asian staff.

American airlines and pilot organizations have lobbied US authorities to deny Norwegian Air access rights with its newly-Irish registered Boeing Dreamliners. They argued Norwegian Air was exploiting a loophole in the EU/US aviation agreement, letting it use cheaper Thai and American cabin crews. Norwegian said it was now considering moving its long-haul operations back to Norway, after finding a loophole in local laws it believes will let it use the cheaper staff without them needing work and residence permits. PHOTO: Norwegian Air

American airlines and pilot organizations have lobbied US authorities to deny Norwegian Air access rights with its newly-Irish registered Boeing Dreamliners. They argued Norwegian Air was exploiting a loophole in the EU/US aviation agreement, letting it use cheaper Thai and American cabin crews. Norwegian said it was now considering moving its long-haul operations back to Norway, after finding a loophole in local laws it believes will let it use the cheaper staff without them needing work and residence permits. PHOTO: Norwegian Air

Earlier this month, Norwegian Air celebrated the one-year anniversary of its US intercontinental service. It began flying the routes with hired planes, and has a dispensation to operate some planes under Norwegian operating permits.

However, US authorities have not granted Norwegian Air traffic rights for its new Dreamliner planes which are registered in Ireland, and Kjos was starting to lose patience reported newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). Airlines and pilot organizations lobbied against granting Norwegian approvals, arguing the company gained an unfair economic advantage by exploiting the EU/US agreement to hire cheaper staff from outside Europe.

The airline has started investigating other ways to fly to and from the US. One solution was to move Norwegian’s long distance aircraft back from Ireland, and become a Norwegian airline once again. “That is a possibility we are looking at,” confirmed communication director Anne-Sissel Skånvik.

One of the reasons for the airline’s move to Ireland in the first place was the government’s refusal to change immigration laws. The company wanted to employ Thai staff without Norwegian work and residence permits on Norwegian-registered aircraft. Norwegian Air has now claimed it may have found a legal loophole in Norwegian law that would let it operate out of Norway, still using its Thai and American crews.

More liberal interpretation
University of Oslo law professor Erling J Hjelmeng wrote a report, stating the law should be interpreted more liberally. He said it was unclear whether work on board the planes was counted as “taking work in the kingdom” compared with EU rules under Schengen zone regulations.

“The problem in the case is that the flight crew is given a right of entry, which is hindered by the requirement of work permits,” Hjelmeng told DN. “I find it difficult to accept a limitation of this entry right which is positively approved in the regulation, without clearer support in the law.”

A Ministry of Justice submission from 2012 stated the current rules are likely to create confusion. In another legal text, it emerged that crews can travel into Norway during the service and be located in the same municipality in connection with a “stop-over,” without the requirement for a residence permit.

“We have always believed that the interpretation from the previous government is clear discrimination in relation to foreign competitors who fly to Norway,” Skånvik said. “We believe that still.”

If Norwegian Air has found a gap in the law, DN reported there would be nothing stopping the airline from also using the same cheaper personnel on their internal European flights.

Pilots: Kjos can forget about it
The Norwegian and American pilot associations that have campaigned against Norwegian Air said they would alert the authorities if the airline tried to move back to Norway, but keep using Thai and US staff on their planes.

“We believe the law is unilaterally interpreted such that a work and residence permit is necessary to work on board Norwegian planes,” said Jack Nekstar, the head of international affairs at pilots’ organization Norsk Flygerforbund. “If Norwegian takes over, we will not sit quietly. We expect the authorities to intervene immediately, or the case will create tremendous involvement. Kjos can just forget about this.”

If Norwegian Air does move its intercontinental planes back to Norway, the Bodø-based civil aviation authority Luftfartstilsynet would be responsible for making sure the company’s crews had the necessary work and residence permits. “We have oversight responsibility over Norwegian companies in accordance with the common European flight operations regulations, which will also cover the companies’ foreign bases,” said acting legal director Nina Beate Vindvik. “The authority also has responsibility for overseeing bases and crew who are resident in Norway in accordance with the labour law provisions.”

newsinenglish.no/Emily Woodgate