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EU and US officials to hold 'urgent' meeting on Norwegian

European Commission and US officials will meet in Washington, DC next month to discuss Norwegian Air International's (NAI) controversial application for a foreign air carrier permit from US authorities, sources tell Flightglobal.

The unprecedented "extraordinary" meeting of the EU-US joint committee that oversees the EU-US open skies agreement will take place on 25 November, say sources close to the situation.

EU officials had requested for an "urgent meeting" after the US Department of Transportation (DOT) in September rejected NAI's application for exemption authority to operate to the USA, saying it was not in the public interest to approve the request. DOT said in September it was still reviewing NAI's application for a foreign air carrier permit.

EU officials plan to "clarify and resolve questions relating to the application of the EU-US Air Transport Agreement as regards the application of Norwegian Air International for an exemption and its request for a foreign air carrier permit", said European Commission acting director for aviation and international transport affairs Olivier Onidi in a 9 October letter to US Department of State deputy assistant secretary for transportation affairs Thomas Engle.

Onidi had proposed in the letter, a copy of which was seen by Flightglobal, for the meeting to take place in Brussels on either 11 or 20 November. It is not immediately clear why the meeting is now taking place in Washington, DC instead.

Besides discussions on NAI, EU officials are also seeking the urgent meeting with their US counterparts to resolve differences over restrictions on aircraft wet leases, according to Onidi's letter.

NAI is an Ireland-based subsidiary of Norwegian, which plans to transfer its long-haul operations to NAI. Norwegian already serves the USA non-stop through its Oslo-based subsidiary Norwegian Long Haul. These flights are not affected by the DOT's decision in September.

Norwegian had planned for NAI to take over the flights, but the airline's plans in the USA attracted a firestorm of protest from several airlines and labour groups, who accuse Norwegian of basing NAI in Ireland to escape stricter labour laws in Norway. NAI's critics also say that the carrier will benefit from lower labour costs by using crew based in Asia.

Norwegian chief executive Bjorn Kos is scheduled to speak in Washington DC on 20 November at an industry event, where he is expected to make a case for Norwegian's plans to an audience that will include representatives from the US government, airlines, labour and lobbying groups.

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