Norwegian Air boss rejects criticism over budget airline plan

Chief executive denies suggestion that plan to launch services via Ireland would undermine US jobs

The chief executive of Norwegian Air Shuttle, which is seeking to launch a low-cost, long-haul airline via Ireland, has rejected arguments by US airlines and unions that his efforts to build a network serving the United States would undermine wages and working standards.

Instead, chief executive Bjorn Kjos said US airlines arguing for labour fairness actually fear his cheap ticket prices. A round-trip flight from New York to London in December costs as little as $483 on Norwegian, compared with $835 on Delta or $832 on American, according to prices posted on the airlines' websites on Wednesday.

Norwegian plans to operate low-cost, long-haul services connecting Europe with the US and Asia using its Dublin-based subsidiary, Norwegian Air International, whose Irish licences mean it is covered by air travel agreements between the EU and non-European countries.

US regulators in September decided to slow Norwegian’s quest to operate in the United States however, where unions have said the airline pays low wages and does not meet employment standards.


Mr Kjos, a former fighter pilot, said in an interview on Wednesday that his airline pays competitive wages everywhere its crews are based, including New York, and that he supports employees’ right to form unions.

“We don’t care if they’re unionised,” he said. “That is up to the crew to decide themselves.”

His comments came as dozens of pilots visited Capitol Hill on Wednesday to press lawmakers to oppose Norwegian’s efforts to get broader permission to fly to the United States.

While Norwegian Air Shuttle already flies from Oslo to New York, Florida and other destinations, its Ireland-based subsidiary, Norwegian Air International, does not have permission to fly to the country.

US airlines and unions are lobbying the US Department of Transportation to deny the subsidiary’s application for a foreign air carrier permit.

The opponents include airline unions and big carriers such as American Airlines, Delta and United Continental.

They say Norwegian will dodge US labour laws by using its Irish subsidiary to take advantage of labour laws that are weaker than in Norway, threatening . jobs.

Mr Kjos said the Irish subsidiary is necessary to obtain access for all of Norwegian's aircraft to fly between the United States, Europe and Asia. If the company is only incorporated in Norway, it does not have access to many countries in Asia, since Norway is not part of the European Union. That would leave Norwegian running two airlines that separately serve the United States and Asia, and not able to shift aircraft from one region to the other.

“It would be a logistical nightmare,” Mr Kjos said. “We can’t have one airline flying east, one airline flying west.”

If the Transportation Department approves Norwegian’s application, Kjos said, he plans to establish crew bases in Los Angeles, New York and other locations, and likely will hire American pilots.

Norwegian is one of the first airlines trying to bring low-cost flying to long-haul flights. It has a fleet of 17 Boeing 787 Dreamliners and plans to order at least five to 10 more.