Norwegian Air’s US flights face court challenge

Airline workers demand Washington overturn decision to allow Norwegian to fly

Airline workers have asked the courts to overturn a US government decision that allows Norwegian Air International to fly from Ireland to New York and Rhode Island.

Washington’s department of transportation gave Irish-registered Norwegian permission to fly from the European Union to the US last December, paving the way for new transatlantic services from Cork, Belfast, Dublin and Shannon.

Unions representing 100,000 pilots and cabin crew are challenging the decision in the federal appeals court on the grounds that the department did not weigh a key part of the US-EU air travel treaty when it issued the permit.

The Air Line Pilots’ Association, International Association of Flight Attendants, Allied Pilots Association and Southwest Airline Pilots’ Association want the court to overturn the decision and order the department to reconsider it.

The unions signalled in January that they were likely to challenge the US government’s finding. They say that the department’s ruling is flawed because it said it was not required to take article 17 of the treaty into account when making its decision.

‘Capricious’

Article 17 states that the treaty is not intended to undermine labour standards and that this principle should “guide” parties to the agreement. The unions describe the department’s conclusion in relation to the article as “arbitrary and capricious”.

Aviation unions and competitors opposed Norwegian’s licence application claiming that its parent registered the airline in the Republic to skirt labour protections and hire staff on contracts issued by Asian companies.

Norwegian’s spokesman dismissed the claims. “These are as the same tired and false allegations already dismissed by the department of transportation’s order last year which recognised Norwegian’s clear and legitimate right to a foreign carrier’s permit,” he said.

He added that the airline employed hundreds of American and European crew at bases in New York and Providence in the US and Edinburgh, Scotland.

The airline’s parent, Norwegian Air Shuttle, wants to use its Irish subsidiary to offer low-cost long-haul flights between Europe and north America and the Far East.

Norwegian Air International is due to begin flying from Ireland to the US in July, which will include Cork Airport’s first US service, to Providence Rhode Island.

The US court of appeals has not scheduled a date to hear the case but the unions have filed papers stating their claim.

Norwegian crews operating from its US airports recently joined the International Association of Machinists, one of America’s biggest aerospace industry unions.