Norwegian Air’s Ireland-US flights licence challenged by unions

Unions claim Norwegian’s parent is using Irish company to skirt US and EU labour laws

Unions representing more than 100,000 airline workers are challenging the US government's decision to give a licence to Norwegian Air International that will allow it to fly from Cork and Shannon to Boston and New York.

Washington's department of transportation recently announced that it would permit Norwegian to fly to the United States, paving the way for it to offer cheap transatlantic flights, including long-awaited services from Cork and Shannon.

A number of trade unions which originally opposed Norwegian’s application for a foreign carrier’s permit have petitioned the US court of appeals to review the decision in a bid to have it reversed.

The unions represent about 100,000 workers mostly in airlines and transport. They include the US federation of labour organisations (AFL-CIO), Airline Pilots’ Association, Association of Flight Attendants, and the Allied Pilots’ Association.


Their move follows a letter from more than 100 congress men and women to US president-elect Donald Trump calling on him to use his power to reverse or halt the department's decision following his inauguration this month.

The unions claim that Norwegian's Scandinavian parent is using the Irish company to skirt US and EU labour laws by hiring flight crew on contracts issued by companies in Singapore that offer workers poorer terms and lower protections. They argue that this breaches the terms of the EU-US air transport treaty, known as Open Skies.

‘Disappointing’ decision

AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka described the US government's decision as " disappointing" in a statement confirming the groups' court action. "US aviation workers need a US administration that enforces our nation's trade agreements and safeguards fair competition for US companies and their workers," Captain Tim Canoll, president of the Air Line Pilots' Association, said.

However, Norwegian has consistently denied the unions’ claims. It has pledged to hire only EU and US citizens to crew its transatlantic flights and said that the laws of those jurisdictions will govern their employment conditions.

A Norwegian spokesman said that the unions’position did not change the department of transportation’s order, which recognised the airline’s right to a foreign carrier’s permit.

Creating greater competition

He added that Norwegian intended to focus on creating greater competition on transatlantic flights and more jobs in Europe and the US. "No other foreign airline has more US-based cabin crew and immediately after department of transportation approval was received, Norwegian announced two new US bases creating more than 150 jobs, as well as 130 new jobs in Edinburgh, " he said.

"In the coming weeks we also expect to announce new transatlantic routes from Ireland, Scotland and the US."

Cork Airport recently said that tickets for Norwegian’s proposed flights from there to the US could go on sale next month. The airline is in talks with a number of airports close to Boston and New York about landing there.

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O’Halloran covers energy, construction, insolvency, and gaming and betting, among other areas