33 House GOP lawmakers join opposition to Norwegian Air bid

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A group of 33 House Republicans is pushing Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to reject a bid from Norwegian Airlines to gain access to airports in the U.S. and European Union.

Norwegian Air is attempting to gain access to airports that are covered under the U.S. and European Union’s “Open Skies” agreement by registering its airplanes in Ireland, which is a member of the EU.

The Scandinavian company says it will be able to offer transatlantic flights for as low as $150 each way if its effort is approved by the Department of Transportation.

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The GOP lawmakers said in their letter to Foxx that approval of the Norwegian Air request would be unfair to U.S. airlines because they said the Scandinavian company does not adhere to U.S. and EU labor standards.

"We write you today regarding the application of Norwegian Air International Limited (NAI) for a foreign air carrier permit and express our deep concern that this will create a competitive disadvantage for domestic airlines," the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Foxx that was dated May 29.

"The application submitted to on December 2, 2013 raises a number of red flags that we would like to share with you," the letter continued. "NAI holds an Air Carrier Certificate (AOC) from Ireland. The company, however, is owned by Norwegian Air Shuttle (NAS), an airline based in Norway. NAS established NAI in Ireland (which NAI does not fly to) to avoid the application of Norwegian employment to NAI's flight crew."

The bid by Norwegian Airlines to gain entry into the U.S. and European Union markets has prompted rare agreement between aviation labor groups and lawmakers in the Republican-led House.

Labor groups that represent U.S. airline employees have said Norway's inclusion in the Open Skies Act would undermine the entire premise of the pact.

The airline has argued that critics are unfairly criticizing its business practices because they are trying to protect their current positions in the international flight markets, but the GOP lawmakers sided with the unions in their letter to Foxx.

"As a Norwegian company, NAS could not establish an Irish subsidiary and have it operate commercial service to the U.S. but for the U.S.-EU Air Transport Agreement," the lawmakers wrote.

"The NAS/NAI business model appears to be designed expressly in a manner that undermines U.S. and Norwegian labor standards," the letter continued. "NAI's filings submitted to your agency are misleading for a number of reasons, such as why NAI was established in Ireland and NAS's treatment of its employees. The filings also raise questions about which labor laws will apply to NAI's flight crew."

Norwegian Air CEO Bjorn Kjos said in an interview with The Hill in March that opponents of its application are overexaggerating their complaints about its operations.

Kjos said the airline follows labor laws “wherever a crew is based.

“If we’re employing an American crew, we have to pay them the same as other [airlines], or else they wouldn’t have started working for us,” the CEO said.

The Washington, D.C.-based Air Line Pilots Association praised the GOP lawmakers for raising objections to the Norwegian Air bid on Monday.

“U.S. airline pilots salute Rep. Chris Collins, and all these Republican lawmakers, for taking this stand to safeguard a fair marketplace for U.S. airlines to compete,” President Lee Moak said in a statement.
 
“This letter clearly signals that congressional opposition to Norwegian Air International’s scheme is not only profound, it’s intensifying rapidly,” Moak continued. “We urge the DOT to heed the escalating objection from lawmakers, the airline industry, airline workers, and passengers and deny NAI’s application.”

The letter was signed by Reps. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.); Fred Upton (R-Mich.); Ted Poe (R-Texas); Mike Coffman (R-Colo.); David McKinley (R-W.Va.); Paul Cook (R-Calif.); Walter Jones (R-N.C.); Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.); David Joyce (R-Ohio); Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.); Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.); Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.); Aaron Schock (R-Ill.); Patrick Tiberi (R-Ohio); Rodney Davis (R-Ill.); Jim Renacci (R-Ohio); Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.); Charlie Dent (R-Pa.); Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.); Bill Johnson (R-Ohio); Don Young (R-Alaska); Tim Griffin (R-Ark.); Todd Rokita (R-Ind.); Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.); Jeff Denham (R-Calif.); Steve Stivers (R-Ohio); Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.); Lee Terry (R-Neb.); Tom Reed (R-N.Y.); David Valada (R-Calif.); Lou Barletta (R-Pa.); Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) and Steve Southerland (R-Fla.).