Business Irish

Saturday 3 December 2016

US pilots willing to halt hostility to Norwegian Air's Irish route plan

Published 26/10/2016 | 02:30

Norwegian Air is seeking a permit to fly between Cork and America.
Norwegian Air is seeking a permit to fly between Cork and America.

America's largest pilot union has said it will drop its opposition to a plan by Norwegian Air International to use Ireland as a base to serve America - if the carrier formally tells the US Department of Transportation that it will only hire crew on US or Irish contracts.

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"They're willing to say that to the Irish people, so they should be willing to say it to the US Department of Transportation (DOT)," union president Tim Canoll told the Irish Independent in Dublin.

"If they do that one final step, the resistance of airline pilots' unions would melt away."

The union - Air Line Pilots' Association (ALPA) - is the world's biggest pilot union, with over 53,000 members.

Dublin-based Norwegian Air International (NAI) - a subsidiary of Norwegian Air Shuttle - has publicly committed to using only US or European crew on its planned NAI transatlantic services.

That's part of an effort to appease concerns in the US that it would hire crews based in Asia, or offer staff less lucrative contracts than they would if they were NAI employees.

"They just need to tell that to the DOT in a filing so that they're committed to it," said Mr Canoll.

He said ALPA had encouraged NAI to make that commitment, but it had "refused". "That gives us pause," he said.

ALPA has opposed NAI's plans to use Ireland as a base to avail of the Open Skies agreement between the European Union and the United States. That agreement allows airlines from the EU to fly to any destination in the US, and vice versa.

NAI initially plans to launch low-cost transatlantic services from Cork to Boston and New York. It had hoped to launch the Boston service last summer.

Norwegian Air Shuttle already flies from Europe to the US.

"I want Norwegian Air International to succeed and go forward," said Mr Canoll. "I think competition is a great thing."

ALPA is concerned that NAI would gain an unfair economic advantage over US airlines if it used workers from outside the US or EU. For three years, the US DOT has been sitting on an application from NAI to secure a foreign carrier permit to allow it to operate between the EU and the US.

The DOT said in April that it intended to grant the permit, but it has still not been issued. It could be some time before it is.

The delay has provoked the ire of the European Commission, which has said that wider trade agreements between the US and the EU could now be threatened.

Hillary Clinton is opposed to NAI's plans.

One of the largest members of ALPA, representing over 12,000 pilots, has publicly endorsed her presidential bid. The executive council of the American Federation of Labour-Congress of Industrial Organisations (AFL-CIO), of which ALPA is a member, has also endorsed her.

Mr Canoll sits on the AFL-CIO executive council. If she's elected, the Clinton administration would have to sign off on the NAI permit being issued.

Mr Canoll said ALPA would consider legal action if a permit was issued without its concerns being addressed.

A spokesman for NAI was uncontactable.

Irish Independent

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