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The U.S. Department of Transportation has approved a foreign
air carrier permit for low-cost carrier Norwegian Air Shuttle's Irish
subsidiary to fly to the United States.
The decision affirms the tentative
approval the DOT offered in April. Norwegian Air Shuttle already flies to
the United States from Norway and other markets covered by its Norwegian
license, but the permit for Norwegian's Irish subsidiary will open up further
expansion opportunities, including service between the United States and
The approval came despite objections from several fronts,
including the three U.S. legacy carriers and airline labor groups, which said Norwegian's
Irish subsidiary is a phantom organization designed to skirt stricter labor
laws in Norway. AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department president Edward
Wytkind said the subsidiary's "flag-of-convenience" function violated
an article of the U.S.-European Union Open Skies Agreement regarding labor
standards: "Clearly, a Norwegian-owned airline that is based in Ireland
for the purpose of evading Norway's labor and tax laws and that will hire crews
under Asian contracts is in violation of these explicit labor
protections," Wytkind said. "[This] decision effectively ushers in a
new era in aviation, one in which high-road carriers will be forced to compete
with sweatshop-like airlines."
The DOT called the situation "among the most novel and
complex ever undertaken by the department" but said opponents' concerns
were not a basis for rejection. "Regardless of our appreciation of the
public policy arguments raised by opponents, we have been advised that the law
and our bilateral obligations leaves us no avenue to reject this
For its part, Norwegian had said it will not use Asia-based
crews on transatlantic flights, though the DOT did not mention that promise in
it's decision to grant the permit.
The decision now made by the U.S. DOT finally paves the way for greater competition, more flights and more jobs on both sides of the Atlantic."
Following the DOT decision, the carrier also said it plans
to open pilot and cabin crew bases in Boston and at New York's John F. Kennedy
International Airport. That's in addition to a Fort Lauderdale base it
announced in October.
"While the delays Norwegian [has] faced have been
unfortunate and unnecessary, ultimately the decision now made by the U.S. DOT
finally paves the way for greater competition, more flights and more jobs on
both sides of the Atlantic," according to Norwegian Air director of
communications Anders Lindström. "We now look forward to working on our
plans for Norwegian's continued expansion in the U.S."
Norwegian also is seeking similar approval for its U.K.
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