US pilots protest over Norwegian carrier’s Cork route

Company plans to use lower-paid pilots to fly from Ireland to the US, say unions

Captain Halli Mulei, a spokeswoman for the Air Line Pilots Association branch at United Airlines, at the protest outside the White House against Norwegian Air International’s plan for a low-cost service between Cork and Boston. Photograph: Simon Carswell

Captain Halli Mulei, a spokeswoman for the Air Line Pilots Association branch at United Airlines, at the protest outside the White House against Norwegian Air International’s plan for a low-cost service between Cork and Boston. Photograph: Simon Carswell

 

More than 300 US airline pilots and crew have protested outside the White House over the permits given to Norwegian Air International to begin a low-cost transatlantic route between Cork and Boston.

Members of the Air Line Pilots Association, the world’s largest pilots’ union, dressed in full uniform were joined by other airline workers at a rally in Washington.

Carrying signs saying “#DenyNAI” and “Don’t break the ladder of opportunity for US workers”, the pilots paraded in the street in front of the White House.

They were joined by members of other trade unions, including the AFL-CIO, the Communication Workers of America and the Transport Workers Union of America.

The unions are strongly objecting to the Irish-registered airline’s application for a foreign carrier permit that would allow the airline to operate the transatlantic service.

The unions argue that the airline will erode wages and disrupt work practices. They claim that by registering in Ireland, instead of Norway, the airline is bypassing Norwegian employment, regulatory and tax laws with the intention of using lower-paid pilots from south-east Asia to fly from Ireland to the US.

Plans

The service would be an economic boon for Ireland as the airline plans to operate more low-fare flights out of Cork and later Shannon to various parts of the US.

Prominent Irish business and political figures, including Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary and Irish Aviation Authority chief executive Eamon Brennan, were among the signatories to a letter sent to members of US congress urging them to support the service.

Lobbying efforts to have the new transatlantic service approved have reached the highest levels of power with Taoiseach Enda Kenny raising the issue with President Barack Obama during their St Patrick’s Day meeting in the Oval Office.

The service has become a thorny political issue in the US.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has objected to the airline’s permit saying that it would employ low-paid crews and “threaten the jobs of hundreds of thousands of flight attendants, mechanics, pilots and other airline workers in our country and in Europe”.

Employment law

Capt Tim Canoll, president of the 53,000-member Air Line Pilots Association union, accused the Norwegian airline of creating a separate subsidiary in Ireland specifically to circumvent Norwegian employment law so they could source long-haul crews from south-east Asia.

“While they may have said at times that we intend to operate with US and EU crews, they have specifically refused to put that into the docket as proof of what they are going to do,” he said, speaking shortly after the Washington rally.

“Our fear is that they won’t write it down and tell our government they are going to do it, then they are not going to do it.”

Capt Halli Mulei, spokeswoman for the union’s chapter at United Airlines, said that the unions were not concerned about Irish employment laws but those elsewhere in the world.

“We have a Norwegian company that’s going to have an operating certificate in Ireland but then use crews from all around the world. What country is going to have oversight and regulate their safety?” she said.

Susan Davis, the Washington-based spokeswoman representing Cork Airport in the push for permit approval, said that the claims of the unions were “bogus”.

She denied that the airline would be using Asian crews.