188 House members urge Norwegian Air rejection

188 House members urge Norwegian Air rejection
© Wikimedia Commons

A bipartisan group of 188 lawmakers is urging the Department of Transportation (DOT) to reject Norwegian Airlines’ bid to increase flights to airports in the U.S. and Europe. 

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 has said 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, where it has been pending for most of the year. 

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However, a group of 188 lawmakers signed a letter this week to Transportation Secretary Anthony FoxxAnthony Renard FoxxBig Dem names show little interest in Senate Lyft sues New York over new driver minimum pay law Lyft confidentially files for IPO MORE urging him to reject the Norwegian Air (NAI) bid because they said it would be unfair to U.S. airlines that register their airplanes domestically and abide by strict federal aviation rules. 

“We urge DOT to deny NAI's pending application for a foreign air carrier permit,” the lawmakers wrote. “We remain concerned that granting NAI's application for a foreign air carrier permit would not be in the public interest and would unfairly put domestic airlines at a competitive disadvantage. We also reiterate our belief that the business model of NAI does not comply with the provisions of the U.S.-EU Open Skies Agreement.” 

The letter, which was spearheaded by Reps. Chris CollinsChristopher (Chris) Carl CollinsOn The Money: Economy adds 136K jobs in September | Jobless rate at 50-year low | Treasury IG to probe handling of Trump tax returns request | House presses Zuckerberg to testify on digital currency Two Collins associates plead guilty in insider trading case On The Money: Trump blames Fed as manufacturing falters | US to join Trump lawsuit over NY subpoena for tax returns | Ex-Rep. Chris Collins pleads guilty in insider trading case MORE (R-N.Y.) and Albio SiresAlbio B. SiresLawmakers spar over surveillance flight treaty with Russia Overnight Defense: Protests at Trump's NYC Veterans Day speech | House Dems release Pentagon official's deposition transcript | Lawmakers ask Trump to rescind Erdogan invite Bipartisan House members call on Trump to rescind Erdoğan invitation MORE (D-N.J.), comes ahead of a scheduled meeting between transportation officials in the Obama administration and their counterparts from the European Union about the controversial Norwegian Air bid this week. 

Labor unions that represent pilots and flight attendants that work for U.S.-based airlines have campaigned vocally against the Norwegian Air “Open Skies” application for nearly a year, arguing the company is only able to offer lower ticket prices for international flights because it skirts labor laws that are normally applied to air carriers.

The airline’s CEO, Bjorn Kjos, said in a speech in Washington last week that opponents of his company’s plans were painting a false picture of its operations. 

“It’s a Boeing. It’s the same crew. It’s the same pilots and they’re definitely not unsafe,” Kjos said of the planes Norwegian Air would fly to the U.S. if its “Open Skies” application is approved.

Norwegian Air currently flies planes that are registered in its home country to airports in New York, California and Florida under a subsidy company that is known as Norwegian Air Shuttle. The company argues the low-cost business model for his company's main airline requires access to more "Open Skies" airports in Europe, which also requires U.S. approval as part of the original agreement, to provide more route flexibility in its flight network. 

Norwegian Air has been trying to get approval for a full foreign carrier permit by registering its airplanes in Ireland instead of in its home country, which has riled members of the U.S. aviation industry because they argue that Irish aviation regulations are more lax than other EU nations.  

Critics of Norwegian Air's bid already won a victory from the Obama administration when the DOT ruled in September that the company did not qualify for an exemption that allows foreign carriers who are seeking access to U.S. airports under the Open Skies agreement to begin providing flights while their full applications are still being review by federal regulators.

The lawmakers who wrote to Foxx this week said the DOT should press forward now with a full rejection of Norwegian Air, noting that the Republican-led House has already passed legislation intended to prevent maneuvers like the company is attempting now. 

“That initial decision by DOT was critically important to the U.S. aviation industry and its hundreds of thousands of employees who strive to compete on a level playing field,” the letter said. 

“As you know, in June, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed an amendment that would require the DOT to ensure that any foreign air operators' applications follow the terms of the U.S.-EU Open Skies Agreement and U.S. law,” the lawmakers continued. “That amendment was driven by the belief that NAI's flag-of-convenience business model does not comply with U.S. and international law, and would be detrimental to the future of the U.S. aviation industry, aviation workers and our national economy.”