The U.S. Department of Transportation approved Norwegian Air International’s longstanding application to fly new routes, potentially sparing the incoming Trump administration from a trade spat with the European Union.
Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA spent three years trying to win approval for a new Ireland-based subsidiary that would expand the discount airline’s international services. The plan divided the industry as airlines and labor unions on both sides of the Atlantic battled over whether it would increase competition or unfairly harm other carriers and their workers.
Responding to news that the US Department of Transportation has approved Norwegian Air International’s (NAI) application for a foreign carrier permit, a Norwegian spokesperson said:
“We welcome the long overdue news that Norwegian Air International (NAI) has been awarded a foreign carrier permit by the US Department of Transportation.
“This approval finally makes it possible for us to plan the Cork to the U.S. routes we, and many others, have been looking forward to. We also now look forward to our foreign carrier permit for Norwegian Air UK (NUK) being approved next.
“We would like to thank the many airports, airlines, industry and business groups, politicians and members of the public in Europe, the US, and Ireland in particular who have offered us their continued support over the last three years.
“While the delays Norwegian have faced have been unfortunate and unnecessary, ultimately the decision now made by the US DOT finally paves the way for greater competition, more flights and more jobs on both sides of the Atlantic.
“Above all, it is a victory for millions of passengers who will benefit from more choice and lower fares. We now look forward to working on our plans for Norwegian’s continued expansion in the US, delivering the flights, jobs and economic boost we always promised we would.”
Norwegian’s critics can still appeal the decision and vowed to battle on.
Capt. Tim Canoll, Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) President, said:
“We are extremely disappointed by the Department of Transportation’s decision to run roughshod over the U.S. Open Skies agreement and allow Norwegian Air International to fly to and from the United States”.
“This flawed action is a lasting legacy of the Obama administration and demonstrates an egregious lack of support for working men and women in this country. ALPA would never have supported this Air Transport Agreement if we had known how our government would apply it. Given this decision, why should anyone trust the U.S. government to enforce its own trade agreements?”
“This decision is an affront to fair competition and will ultimately result in the loss of U.S. jobs and, potentially, significant losses for the U.S. international aviation industry,” continued Canoll. “ALPA is considering all options to reverse this action.”
In June 2016, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Transportation John Porcari, who oversaw the U.S.-EU negotiations for DOT, affirmed that the ATA labor provision known as Article 17 bis applies to NAI’s foreign air carrier permit application. This provision directs that the access created by the agreement is not intended to undermine labor standards.
NAI’s business plan has also generated an outpouring of concern from Congress. Bipartisan legislation (H.R. 5090) has been cosponsored by 175 members of Congress. The bill would have prevented NAI from operating in the United States under its current business model by ensuring that grants of operating authority to European airlines under the ATA be consistent with the intent of Article 17 bis of the ATA.
“We are pleased with U.S. President-Elect Donald J. Trump’s stand on trade, and we look forward to working with the next administration to safeguard U.S. jobs,” said Capt. Canoll.
“ALPA will take appropriate action to overturn this decision and block the NAI business model from spreading. While NAI is the first, it is not likely to be the last attempt to flout U.S. policy and labor standards to gain an unfair competitive advantage.”