U.S. DOT Dismisses Norwegian Air Exemption, Red-Lights Flag-of-Convenience Airline
WASHINGTON—The Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO lauded the decision today by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to dismiss Norwegian Air International’s (NAI) request for an exemption to launch an airline that would violate American public interest laws and the U.S.-EU Open Skies trade agreement.
“The case against NAI’s scheme has been made by unions and airlines in the U.S. and Europe and by U.S. lawmakers on both sides of the aisle,” said TTD President Edward Wytkind. “Today’s decision to dismiss NAI’s exemption is sound and reflects the overwhelming body of evidence against NAI’s proposed rogue operation.”
NAI, whose parent is a Norwegian air carrier, has stirred great controversy in Washington and across Europe because its plan violates the explicit employee protections (Article 17 bis) embodied in the 2010 U.S.-EU Open Skies agreement that were designed to bar schemes that, in the Article’s words, undermine “high labor standards.” NAI’s business plan is a blatant attempt to shop the globe for cheap labor and lax regulations, to evade Norway’s social and tax laws, and to escape its collective bargaining obligations to its own employees.
While denying the exemption is a crucial step, there is still a final decision to be made on NAI’s request for a foreign air carrier permit. “NAI must not be granted a foreign air carrier permit and be allowed to go forward,” Wytkind added. “We will continue to insist that the DOT strongly enforce the landmark employee protections it negotiated in the Open Skies agreement. Only by rejecting NAI’s application will the DOT send a clear message that it will enforce worker protections embodied in aviation trade agreements.”
The facts surrounding the NAI scheme are not in dispute. NAI has left its home country to register its “new” airline in Ireland, although it will not provide air service to the Emerald Isle. It will base most of its flight crews in Thailand and employ them through a Singaporean employment agency. Yet it wants to use its sham European identity to run a flag-of-convenience airline that serves the trans-Atlantic market.
“NAI is effectively demanding one set of rules for its airline and a different set of rules for all other airlines in the U.S. and Europe,” Wytkind added. “This scheme should not fly. Today’s denial by our government of NAI’s exemption should lead to a rejection of the airline’s pending application for a foreign air carrier permit.”
A broad labor coalition including TTD’s 32 member unions has worked for months in opposition to the NAI application. These efforts were led by the Air Line Pilots Association, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, and the Transport Workers Union. TTD has also been joined in this effort by our labor movement partners in Europe, who have stood with us against flag-of-convenience airlines. Numerous U.S. and European airlines have also taken a strong stance against Norwegian’s application.