UPDATED: The US Department of Transportation (DOT) has extended its already lengthy evaluation of Norwegian Air International’s application for a permanent license to operate long-distance flights between Europe and the US using Asian crews on board. The extension may delay a decision on Norwegian’s controversial application by another six months.
Norwegian has been operating its trans-Atlantic flights from Oslo, Stockholm and London under temporary approval that now has been withdrawn from Norwegian’s Irish unit Norwegian Air International (NAI). Norwegian officials said in a press release Wednesday that all its currently scheduled intercontinental flights between Europe and the US will continue to operate while DOT extends its evaluation, however, based on the Norway-based rights of its Norwegian Air Shuttle parent, not those of NAI.
DOT, calling Norwegian’s case “complicated,” decided against extending its temporary approval of Norwegian’s flights after both the European and American transport workers’ unions warned against possible deficiencies in Norwegian’s security clearance of cabin personnel. They contended that it can’t be documented whether Norwegian’s Asian cabin crews have been subjected to the same expanded background checks as American and European crews. Lack of thorough background checks would violate anti-terror measures put in place after the terrorist attacks on the US on September 11, 2001.
Labour organizations already have been protesting for months over Norwegian’s use of the Asian crews, who are paid much less than European, American and certainly Norwegian flight attendants. Unions for both pilots and flight attendants on both sides of the Atlantic have argued that Norwegian shouldn’t be allowed to use Asian crews on flights over the Atlantic. Norwegian claims its flights are in line with the “Open Skies” policies of the US and the EU.
Several top politicians in the US have also argued against allowing Norwegian to operate its long-haul fights, including, most recently, veteran Democratic Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, the former Speaker of the US House of Representatives.
Norwegian Air’s executives have tirelessly argued for their right to operate their long-distance routes, and branded the unions’ objections as “false.” “We expect the DOT to see through all the false claims and the massive campaigns to stop us, both from competitors and labour unions,” Asgeir Nyseth, chief executive of the newly formed Norwegian Air International, stated in a recent press release.
Clearly aware of the political opposition the airline is facing, also from the Democratic Party to which US President Barack Obama belongs, Nyseth added that the airline “is doing exactly what the Obama administration wants: Creating new jobs and contributing to growth in the tourism industry.”
Norwegian further claimed that it had broad customer support in the US and support from airport authorities and other politicians, including former US secretaries of transportation from both the Republican and Democratic parties.
Norwegian launched its intercontinental service, first from Oslo to Bangkok and New York, with new Boeing 787 Dreamliners. The aircraft also have created problems because of various mechanical and technical difficulties that have caused lengthy delays. Norwegian has drawn more passenger complaints in Norway than any other airline, but continues to sell out most of its seats, so its various legal and operating problems have not scared passengers away.