Norwegian is getting everything into place for the beginning of its "shuttle" service into the U.S., and it's hard to imagine that the DOT would ban its entry outright despite objections from U.S. airlines and unions.
Norwegian Air claims it didn’t transfer the base of its long-haul operations to Dublin to dodge Norway’s more restrictive labor laws, as it could have sought an air operator’s certificate elsewhere in Europe, and actually considered the UK and Sweden.
The airline says it chose Dublin for long haul because it would get better access to EU traffic rights, and Ireland offers better financing conditions.
Irish aviation authorities granted Norwegian’s long-haul subsidiary, now based in Dublin, an operating certificate today. The airline has transferred its first aircraft under the new arrangement, a Dreamliner, to the new EU air operator’s certificate. Norwegian’s remaining long-haul aircraft will be transferred “gradually,” Norwegian says.
Norwegian’s long-haul operations had been based in Norway, which isn’t a member of the EU and has tighter labor laws.
Politicians, unions and U.S. airlines are among those charging that Norwegian competes unfairly by using crew from Thailand, paying pilots and other crew members less than the minimum wage in Norway, a charge that Norwegian rejects.
In fact, the U.S.-based Airline Pilots Association pointed out that Norwegian transferred long-haul operations to Dublin, but doesn’t plan on servicing Ireland.
The move “creates the same ‘flag of convenience’ scenario that led to the U.S. maritime industry’s demise and the loss of tens of thousands of U.S. jobs.”
ALPA says Norwegian’s business model is to contract pilots through a Singapore employment company, and to base them in Thailand in order to avoid the requirements of the U.S.-EU Air Transport Agreement.
The U.S. Department of Transportation is currently considering Norwegian’s application for an operating permit, as the Airline Pilots Association, US Airways, American, Delta and United, among others, have voiced objections, citing unfair competition because of Norwegian’s labor practices.
Norwegian says that competitor airlines and unions have made “false allegations” against Norwegian on the labor front.
Norwegian, which began long-haul service between Thailand and the U.S. and Europe in 2013, and plans on flying 14 routes between Europe and the U.S. in 2014, says it will have 300 American crew members on the payroll in 2014, and it is encouraging American pilots to submit job applications.
“Norwegian expects that the U.S. government will process the application in accordance with the principles of the Open Skies Agreement and that Norwegian is given the same rights as were given when we operated on an EEC AOC (European Economic Community Airline Operating Certificate), once the AOC is transferred from Norway to the EU,” the airline says.
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Photo credit: A Norwegian Air Shuttle Boeing 737-800 is seen in the air near Oslo Airport, Gardermoen in this July 17, 2009 file photo. Kyrre Lien / Reuters/Scanpix