DOT rejects part of Norwegian's application for US flights

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The US Department of Transportation (DOT) has dismissed part of Norwegian Air International's (NAI) controversial application to begin flights to the USA, saying that it was not in the public interest to do so.

The decision comes nine months after Norwegian first filed with the DOT for exemption authority and a foreign air carrier permit to allow it to launch the flights. DOT says it is still reviewing NAI's permit application and will issue a tentative decision afterwards.

Explaining its move to dismiss NAI's application for exemption authority, the DOT says: "The Department does not find that a temporary exemption is appropriate or in the public interest."

Norwegian, in response to the DOT's decision, urges the agency to "expedite its review and issue NAI's foreign carrier permit to fly to the US - once and for all".

“While we think it is unfortunate that DOT feels the need to further delay issuance of our permit, which has been pending now for over six months, Norwegian Air International stands behind its business – from its pilots and cabin crew to its affordable fare model to its desire to bring competition to the transatlantic market – and looks forward to receiving approval to operate without further delay,” says Asgeir Nyseth, CEO of NAI, in a statement.

Norwegian says the DOT's dismissal of its exemption authority application "simply gives DOT additional time to consider NAI’s permit application." The carrier adds: "It is not a denial."

NAI is an Ireland-based subsidiary of Norwegian, and applied on 2 December 2013 to the DOT to begin long-haul flights from the EU to the USA. Its application came under fire from US airlines and labour unions, who accuse Norwegian of basing NAI in Ireland to escape stricter labour laws in Norway. NAI's critics also charge that the Ireland-based carrier will benefit from lower labour costs by using crew based in Asia.

Several carriers, including US mainline airlines and European full-service carriers such as Lufthansa, opposed NAI's application. Labour unions also filed objections with the DOT. FedEx, Atlas Air, and several airports and associations came out in support of the airline.

Reacting to the DOT's decision, the Air Line Pilots Association International (ALPA) says the agency "took an important step for fair competition".

ALPA's president Lee Moak urged the DOT to dismiss NAI's foreign air carrier permit as well, saying in a statement: "The DOT must take the next step and deny NAI's application for a foreign air carrier permit to serve US markets."

The Transportation Trades Department (TTD), AFL-CIO also welcomed the DOT's move. "Today's decision to dismiss NAI's exemption is sound and reflects the overwhelming body of evidence against NAI's proposed rogue operation," says TTD president Edward Wytkind in a statement.

Norwegian, through a subsidiary called Norwegian Long Haul that is based in Oslo, already flies from some EU cities to US destinations including Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Oakland, New York and Los Angeles with a fleet of Boeing 787s.

NAI was to take over Norwegian Long Haul's flights. Norwegian says its existing US operations are not affected by the DOT's decision announced today.