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Official defends openness of US skies

The USA remains wide open to foreign airlines seeking entry into the US market, despite the lengthy approval delays suffered by Norwegian Air International, a top official at the US Department of Transportation has indicated.

"I'm not sure it can get much easier," said Brian Hedberg, director of the DOT's office of international aviation, at the Routes Americas conference in Las Vegas on 14 February. "If carriers want to come into this country, they have access at the airports, access at the department and, barring very sensitive issues, there is an easy path for new entrants."

Hedberg made his comments when asked if the USA could ease its process for approving flights to US cites by new foreign airlines.

The Air Line Pilots Association, International (ALPA) has been calling on regulators to revoke Norwegian's operating permit, which the DOT approved in December 2016.

That approval came three years after Norwegian applied for rights to fly to the USA, a move that set off a firestorm of controversy about hiring practices and the limits of open-skies agreements.

US labour groups fiercely opposed Norwegian's plan, arguing that the parent company established its subsidiary in Ireland to skirt UK labour laws.

Norwegian, however, has denied those claims and committed to hiring US crew.

The administration of president Donald Trump has not taken an official stand on the issue. However, earlier this month the administration's press secretary said the USA had a "huge economic interest" in Norwegian.

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