US airlines join chorus of protest against Norwegian's Irish subsidiary

Washington DC
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Four US mainline carriers have called on US authorities to dismiss an application by Norwegian's new Irish subsidiary for a foreign air carrier permit to operate to the USA.

Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, American Airways and US Airways filed a joint response on 20 December challenging the application to the US Department of Transportation (DOT). The airlines say Norwegian's subsidiary in Ireland will allow it to operate with lower labour costs, thus giving it an advantage over US carriers on transatlantic routes.

Norwegian disclosed in October that it would base its EU subsidiary in Ireland, and plans to transfer its long-haul operations to the subsidiary, called Norwegian Air International (NAI).

In a joint reply to the DOT, the four US airlines say Norwegian's subsidiary would contravene a section of the US-EU air transport agreement, which states that “the opportunities created by the agreement are not intended to undermine labour standards or the labour-related rights and principles contained in the parties’ respective laws".

The carriers say that Norwegian had chosen to base its new subsidiary in Ireland so it could "avoid the social laws of Norway - allowing NAI to provide lower wages and less desirable working conditions".

The four airlines add that NAI plans to hire crews on Singapore employment contracts, which will give Norwegian an advantage on transatlantic routes while competing against US airlines.

US airline trade association Airlines for America, pilot association Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) and labour organisation Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, have also raised concerns about Norwegian's Irish subsidiary in filings with the DOT. Norwegian has responded to ALPA, refuting the association's claims that the airline was seeking to exploit regulatory loopholes. "Those familiar with the airline industry also know that competitive wages and conditions are not country-specific – but rather follow an international standard," Norwegian has said.

The operator of Fort Lauderdale International airport, the Broward County Aviation Department, has urged the DOT to approve Norwegian's application. Norwegian's non-stop flight to the airport is crucial to the economic development of the region, says the operator.