Norwegian Air International (NAI), the long-haul arm of low-cost carrier (LCC) Norwegian Air Shuttle, claimed European Commission support Tuesday in its efforts to gain US approval to fly between Europe and the US.
Some US and European carriers and trade unions have complained that NAI is setting up under a “flag of convenience” by registering itself in Ireland to avoid Norway’s strict social and employment legislation, a charge the airline denies.
The carrier notified the US Department of Transportation (DOT) of the European Commission’s view that parties to the US-EU Open Skies Agreement cannot unilaterally deny NAI’s application to serve the US on the basis of Article 17 bis. Article 17 states that the opportunities created by the agreement are not to be used to undermine labor standards.
NAI cited the commission’s views from a meeting between US and Commission officials, where the latter were asked their views on whether a party to Open Skies could unilaterally deny an application of the other party based on the so-called “social dimension” provision of the agreement—a key argument by NAI’s opponents who have been urging DOT to deny NAI’s application.
Norwegian said the commission’s support for its position meant there was no legal basis to deny NAI its application.
NAI says that, despite meeting all US statutory and regulatory requirements to serve the US, its application for authority to fly to the US has been pending with the DOT for almost six months, the longest of any other similar carrier’s application.
“We commend [US] Secretary [Anthony] Foxx in seeking the commission’s comments on this pertinent issue—and the commission for its sound judgment that is consistent with established legal norms of treaty interpretation, the Joint Declaration of the Chairmen of the US and EU delegations who led the negotiation of the historic Open Skies Agreement, and international law,” NAI CEO Asgeir Nyseth said.
The Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l (ALPA), meanwhile, has joined with the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO and the European Cockpit Association in opposing NAI’s application.
ALPA, which has made the NAI application one of its key advocacy campaigns, is concerned about Norwegian’s business model and the potential for the airline industry to start turning to “flags of convenience,” which the maritime industry uses to avoid their home country’s labor regulations.
ALPA said in a statement on its website that NAI has established itself as an Irish airline “in order to avoid Norway’s employment laws and to be able to “rent” its pilots through a Singapore employment company. The pilots, who the company says are based in Thailand, work under individual employment contracts that contain compensation substantially below that of the Norway-based pilots who fly for NAI’s parent company.”
“Congress never intended for a foreign country to wield veto power over the Department of Transportation or its authority to deny or allow a foreign airline to fly to and from the United States,” ALPA president Lee Moak said.
At a roundtable Monday, Moak told ATW, “The safety and security issues raised long term in the flag of convenience model gives us great pause. Airlines cannot sit adrift in the Gulf of Mexico waiting for help to come. There is a fundamental responsibility of a government to ensure that this is a safe airline.”