Europe to press USA for Norwegian permit approval

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European Commission transport officials will meet with their US counterparts in Brussels on 14 July in a fresh attempt to press them to grant Norwegian Air International (NAI) a licence to operate transatlantic flights.

The Commission says it has been told that the USA wants to hear its views on interpretation of the EU-US open-skies agreement’s “Article 17 bis”, the “social article” intended to ensure high labour standards and rights for parties to the treaty.

Article 17 bis has been used by US opponents of Norwegian’s Irish-based NAI subsidiary, who contend that the carrier is seeking to use the offshoot to erode workers’ rights. The article was used as the legal basis for a June amendment to the proposed US transportation budget that could block US authorities from approving NAI’s licence.

“We will explain to the US why Article 17 bis cannot be interpreted in a way that would allow the US to deny NAI’s operations,” says a European Commission transport spokesperson, adding: “We are currently co-ordinating our answer with the member states and Norway. We will release our position once the co-ordination has ended.

Norwegian intends to operate transatlantic flights through Dublin-based NAI. The company was granted its European air operator’s certificate by Ireland in Febuary but is still awaiting approval of its US application seven months after starting the process – a situation the Commission describes as “unacceptable”.

It contends that the EU-US agreement contains “clear obligations” to grant the necessary permits to airlines that are properly licensed, which is “not being done by the US”.

The EU has “repeatedly asked the US government why NAI was being denied access”, says the Commissions spokesperson. “We have no answer to that question. We know that the US government is under intense pressure from US Congress and stakeholders’ groups to ‘deny NAI’. This situation is not acceptable.”