Bjørn Kjos, Norwegian Air Group’s founder and CEO, sets the record straight about EU-based Irish subsidiary Norwegian Air International (NAI) and its intention to continue creating American jobs, stimulate millions more tourist visits to the U.S. and provide consumers on both sides of the Atlantic with more affordable airfares.
Last Friday, after a delay lasting over two years, the Department of Transportation (DOT) issued an order proposing to grant a foreign carrier permit to Norwegian Air International. This order, supported by the Department of Justice and Department of State, has been widely welcomed by airports, tourism and passenger groups, politicians and industry bodies in both the United States and Europe.
Unsurprisingly, the DOT’s order was also met immediately with malicious, reckless and erroneous allegations against the company by its opponents. The same defamatory statements, with the exact same misleading and deceiving accusations, have been refuted and negated time and time again for the past two years.
The opponents’ most repeated allegation is also the one easiest to discredit: that Norwegian is stealing American jobs. Norwegian already employs more U.S.-based crewmembers than any other foreign airline, all of whom are employed under, and therefore protected, by U.S. law, and the airline is committed to hiring hundreds more American crewmembers as it continues to expand. Norwegian’s order of Boeing aircraft, valued at $18.5 billion, and Pratt & Whitney engines for its Airbus aircraft, will help sustain more than 100,000 American jobs, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s own calculations. Additionally, bringing more tourists to the U.S. creates thousands more jobs in the travel and tourism-related industries. Norwegian’s support and stimulation of the American economy is not new – the airline already operates a fleet of over 100 new Boeing 737 and Boeing 787 airplanes.
Unions claim that NAI will undercut competition by operating flights with crews based in Asian countries with lower pay and labor standards. NAI does not have any Asian-based cabin crew or pilots, and Norwegian has, and will continue, to publically state that only U.S. and EU-based crew will be used on NAI transatlantic services. This has been committed in writing to the DOT. Furthermore, opponents have suggested that the NAI operation is an attempt to circumvent the labor laws of both Norway and the United States. Contrary to this allegation, Norwegian always follows the rules and regulations in each of the markets in which it operates and offers employees competitive compensation package on par with other U.S. airlines.
Opponents keep claiming that incorporating in Ireland allows Norwegian to implement a “flag of convenience” operational model. In reality, NAI is headquartered in Dublin with 80 employees, has 37 aircraft registered in Ireland and Norwegian operates flights to and from Ireland, with many more routes planned. Final approval for NAI’s foreign carrier permit will also allow for the highly sought after link between Cork and the United States to begin. Service between Cork and Boston could start this year, with service expanding to New York in 2017. NAI is also actively looking at other Irish airports for further connectivity between the two nations.
Norwegian is one of the world’s fastest-growing global airline. Three years after launching its first U.S. flight, Norwegian now offers 33 transatlantic routes, often in direct competition with other major airlines. Despite this, opponents to Norwegian’s expansion in the U.S. have absurdly tried to argue that this poses a threat to competition. This is clearly untrue; the only threat Norwegian poses is to the near-monopoly that has existed in transatlantic travel for decades, which has been protected by joint ventures and alliances without providing a cost benefit to the flying public.
Opponents have desperately tried to argue that Norwegian and NAI’s business model compromises safety. This reckless claim is fear mongering. Safety has always been, and will always be, the company’s number one priority and Norwegian has been running a safe airline operation since 1993. The company fully complies with European safety standards (EASA) and its crews are trained according to EU regulations, further supplemented by the company’s own additional training programs. Ireland, where the NAI subsidiary is located, also has one of the highest ranked civil aviation authorities in the world.
During NAI’s long-running application with the DOT, opponents have unsuccessfully tried to argue that the airline should not be covered under the terms of the EU-US Open Skies Agreement. DOT’s initial order last week confirms that NAI “appears to meet the DOT’s normal standards for award of a permit and that there appears to be no legal basis to deny NAI’s application.”
A final approval for NAI will simply underline exactly what the EU-US Open Skies agreement was designed for – to foster competition among airlines, leading to greater choice and more affordable fares for passengers.
Kjos is Founder and CEO, Norwegian Air Group