Norwegian Air gets tentative approval to fly to US

Norwegian Air gets tentative approval to fly to US
© Wikimedia Commons

The Department of Transportation gave its tentative stamp of approval for Norwegian Air International to fly to the United States, drawing fierce opposition from industry and union groups but earning applause from travel advocates.

The announcement on Friday will tentatively allow Norwegian Air International, the Irish-flag subsidiary of Norwegian Air Shuttle, to fly to the U.S. after officials found no basis to reject its application.

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Norwegian Air Shuttle is a low-cost carrier that began in Europe and has been pushing to expand its trans-Atlantic flights. But competitors, unions and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have blasted its subsidiary for operating under a certificate from Ireland, where it doesn't fly, and for hiring pilots contracted through Asia, where labor rates are lower.

The groups have long urged that the DOT should reject the airline’s permit application because they say the carrier skirts regulations and violates the international Open Skies agreement.

The department said in a press release that it went to “great lengths to give full consideration to such issues,” consulting with both the Justice and State departments, given the complex nature of the case and numerous safety and labor concerns.

The DOT found that Irish safety oversight fulfills Federal Aviation Administration requirements, and said that Norwegian Air is otherwise qualified to fly under normal application standards.

Lawmakers blasted the decision on Friday. The House approved spending legislation in 2014 that also would bar the DOT from approving Norwegian Air flights to the U.S.

“This airline is ‘Norwegian’ in name only because it uses a flag of convenience to base crews where labor laws are weak,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), ranking member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “Its global outsourcing business model exploits terrible labor, tax and regulatory laws in other countries so it can save a few bucks and undercut competition in the aviation marketplace.”

Airline groups were also quick to slam the department’s announcement.

“We are extremely disappointed by the DOT’s intention to permit Norwegian Air International to fly to and from the United States because it is an affront to fair competition,” said Capt. Tim Canoll, president of the Air Line Pilots Association.

Edward Wytkind, president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, called the air carrier a “job-killing flag-of-convenience airline that perverts the transatlantic airline market and violates our nation’s aviation trade agreement with the European Union.”

But travel advocacy groups welcomed the decision, arguing that allowing Norwegian Air to expand to the U.S. would spur much-needed competition in the marketplace.

“The decision to tentatively allow Norwegian Air International flying rights to the U.S. is a welcome development in an aviation landscape that often appears increasingly anti-competitive and closed-off,’ said Jonathan Grella, executive vice president for public affairs at the U.S. Travel Association. “Finalizing this decision would be a pro-competition, pro-growth and pro-traveler move that will benefit flyers, workers and the U.S. economy.”

The DOT said the public comment period is now open through May 13, before it finalizes a decision.