Unions still aiming to foil Norwegian Air International

Petition filed with federal court contesting US decision to grant carrier a permit

Trade union opposition to Norwegian Air International has not gone away. From the point at which the Scandinavian-owned, Irish-registered carrier sought permission to fly to the US, organisations representing aviation pilots and air crew on both sides of the Atlantic have been claiming that it was bad news for aviation workers.

While it now has its foreign air carrier's permit and began flying from Ireland to the US this month, the unions are still bidding to turn the clock back.

They have filed a petition with the federal court in Washington arguing that the the US Department of Transportation was wrong to grant the the airline permission in the first place.

Their case is partly based on Article 17 of the EU-US Air Transport Agreement, which the unions say is meant to ensure that competition in aviation does not undermine workers’ pay and conditions.


They say that this barred the US government from granting Norwegian its permit and that doing so was not in accordance with the law. The unions, representing more than 100,000 members, want the grant of the licence overturned.

The US department of transportation has responded, essentially saying there are no grounds for the unions’ claims. As an EU-registered carrier satisfying the conditions set out in the agreement between the two jurisdictions, Norwegian was entitled to its permit. It says the unions’ claims of potential damage to their members are speculative and don’t stand up.

While the case is between the unions and department of transportation, and does not involve Norwegian directly, the airline is likely to exercise its right to make its own submission to the court. Unsurprisingly, this is likely to point out that its activities create jobs rather than damaging them.

The case has a long way to run with the department getting more time to file its response. However, withdrawing the licence would create massive upheaval. Norwegian has based craft and crew at various US airports, is flying increasing numbers of routes and is buying craft to cover them.

Unwinding this would be costly. The airline would almost certainly challenge any order requiring the US government to pull the permit.