Cork Chamber welcomes move to end Cork-Boston flight row
European Commission ‘to begin arbitration process’ to break impasse over planned route
Norwegian Air Shuttle chief executive Bjorn Kjos. Photograph: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg
Cork Chamber on Tuesday welcomed reports that the European Commission is to seek to break the impasse over a Cork to Boston air service proposed by Norwegian Air International (NAI) by beginning an arbitration procedure.
Cork Chamber chief executive, Conor Healy, said reports that the Commission is to begin arbitration to resolve the impasse after consulting with EU States was a move in the right direction to get the service up and running after over two years of stalemate.
“Everybody had been very frustrated by the lack of progress and the position adopted in the US and it’s disappointing and unfortunate that it has got to the point where the EU has been forced into a position where it appears about to commence arbitration proceedings,” said Mr Healy.
“Certainly the reports from Brussels suggest it is imminent and I would welcome that very much as I would expect arbitration will find that Norwegian should be granted their licence in line with EU-US open skies agreement, which of course would be good news for Cork and for Ireland. ”
According to Reuters, the Commission will make the move as it believes the two year delay in granting flying rights to Norwegian constitutes a breach of the EU -US Open Skies agreement.
Quoting a source in Brussels, Reuters reported that EU transport commissioner, Violeta Bulc, sent a letter to US secretary of transportation, Anthony Foxx, on Tuesday informing him the Commission had consulted EU member states and would invoke arbitration.
The arbitration procedure, involving a tribunal of three arbitrators (one designated by the EU, one by the United States and one jointly appointed by the EU and US arbitrators), will formally begin after the summer and could take several months, reported Reuters.
The decision by NAI to apply in 2014 for a foreign carrier permit for a transatlantic service from Cork to Boston was expected to reach a conclusion in June when the US department of transport was due to make a decision on whether or not to sanction the service.
In April the department issued an order proposing to grant the foreign carrier permit to NAI, which is based in Dublin and is a subsidiary of Norwegian Air Shuttle, but the proposed service has been mired of controversy on both sides of the Atlantic.
Trade unions in the US and in Ireland have expressed concern that NAI intend to operate the service with crews hired on non-EU and non-US contracts on cheaper rates of pay which will damage overall working conditions and labour protections in European and US aviation.
According to Capt Evan Cullen of Irish Airline Pilots Association (IALPA), NAI plans to use contract crew on the proposed Cork-Boston service whose terms of employment are based on contracts governed by labour laws in countries outside of Norway, the European Union or the United States.
Capt Cullen told The Irish Times that IALPA would welcome a Cork-Boston service with immediate effect if NAI would guarantee that crew would be employed on terms governed by labour laws from Norway, the EU or the United States.
But Norwegian Air International rejected Capt Cullen’s claims when they were put to it by The Irish Times, with the carrier describing IALPA’s opposition as based on “unfounded allegations” and said it was disappointing the union had “chosen to swim against the tide of industry.”
On Tuesday, the company issued a statement in relation to the reported developments in Brussels noting that the EU Commission previously stated it will seek arbitration with US authorities if they decline to approve the permit.
“We are very pleased if the EU Commission is seeking arbitration with US authorities to solve this long overdue issue. Norwegian Air International is an approved and fully operational EU carrier that meets all requirements under the Open Skies Agreement between the EU and the US,” it said.
“A final approval will lead to more new jobs on both sides of the Atlantic, more new transatlantic routes and more affordable fares.”
NAI also has plans to operate a Cork- New York flight and a Shannon-Boston flight.