US government lawyer backs Norwegian Air claim

Allegations by unions and rival airlines have delayed bid to fly from Ireland to Shannon

Bjorn Kjos, CEO Norwegian Air Shuttle: the airline is seeking a permit to fly from Ireland to the US but claims by unions and rival airlines that it is using the Republic as a flag of convenience to skirt labour protection have stalled its application

Bjorn Kjos, CEO Norwegian Air Shuttle: the airline is seeking a permit to fly from Ireland to the US but claims by unions and rival airlines that it is using the Republic as a flag of convenience to skirt labour protection have stalled its application

 

A key US government lawyer has backed Irish-based Norwegian Air International’s efforts to get a licence that will allow it to fly to Boston from Cork and Shannon.

Norwegian is seeking a permit to fly to the US but claims by unions and rival airlines that it is using the Republic as a flag of convenience to skirt labour protections have stalled its application for two years.

It has emerged that Karl Thompson of the US government’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) has confirmed to the country’s department of transportation that Norwegian cannot be refused a licence on the basis of its rivals’ objections.

The department recently “tentatively” approved its application, but postponed a final decision pending further submissions. Some now believe that it may go ahead and grant Norwegian a foreign carrier’s permit within weeks. Opponents such as the US Airline Pilots Association and United and Delta airlines claim the Norwegian group is using its Irish subsidiary to hire low-paid crew and is thus breaking article 17 of the US-EU Open Skies Treaty.

However, Mr Thompson told the department of transportation that if an airline was otherwise qualified to receive a permit, then the US could not refuse it on the basis of article 17 alone.

Norwegian Air’s group chief executive Bjorn Kjos has pledged that it will only crew transatlantic flights with EU and US citizens and has pointed out that they will be hired under Irish labour law, keeping it within the article’s terms.

Despite this, the conflict over the airline’s application focuses on opponents’ claims that it plans to hire crew through Singapore-based companies, breaching the provision, which commits to protect aviation industry labour standards.

EU officials are due to meet US government representatives this week to discuss the row, which has caused a rift between the two sides over the open skies treaty, which was meant to liberalise transatlantic air transport.

The Norwegian Air Shuttle group based its subsidiary in the Republic so it could benefit from the treaty, which in theory allows an airline licensed in one EU country to fly to any part of the US from anywhere in Europe.

The group plans to launch a low-cost long-haul airline connecting Europe with the Far East and US. As part of this, it had intended launching services from Cork and Shannon to Boston in April, but had to postpone this as it had yet to receive its foreign carrier’s permit.

Earlier this year, sources in the European Commission’s transport directorate suggested that the US would be in breach of the treaty if it were not to award the airline the foreign carrier’s permit and indicated that the issue could end up in arbitration.

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