US protests against the foreign air carrier permit Norwegian is seeking for its Irish subsidiary were roundly condemned by panellists during the strategy summit at Routes Europe today.

Peter Morris, chief economist at Flightglobal consultancy Ascend, argues that the campaign against Norwegian Air International's plans is "simply protectionism", adding: "You don't find your shoes or your coats or anything else produced in the same country you're in. So why in aviation?"

In the view of Jochen Schnadt, managing director of Latitude Aviation, the withholding of approval for the permit represents a "clear violation" of the EU-US open-skies agreement. Schnadt complains that there is a "complete muddle of arguments being thrown at this" by Norwegian's US-based adversaries.

"Let's not mix up economic discussions, with safety discussions, with regulatory issues: that's the big issue I have with this," he says.

Simon McNamara, director general of European Regions Airline Association, takes issue with trade unions' use of the phrase "flag of convenience" in reference to NAI's permit application. That shipping-derived term is in this context "incredibly dangerous" and "not fair", he asserts, noting the "connotations for safety" implied in such language.

"If you are an operator in Ireland, you are as safe as an operator in France when it comes to regulatory oversight," he adds.

The problems Norwegian has faced are related to the airline's name, McNamara suggests: "If they were called Red & White Airlines, no one would care."

However, the groundswell of support for Norwegian was tempered by Schnadt when he declared that a "far more relevant" issue than proper enforcement of the open-skies deal pertained to the Irish air operator's certificate held by the airline. Schnadt asks: "Should a carrier forget if it's Norwegian be allowed to actually have an AOC in another country it doesn't even serve? That's a completely different argument and completely different equation."

Hill Dickinson legal director Jeremy Robinson likewise added a nuance to the debate when he said it was "worth airing the points" that US pilot unions made when they questioned whether an airline from Norway – a member of the European Economic Area, but not of the EU – was entitled to benefit from the open-skies provisions.

Source: Cirium Dashboard