EU-US trade threat over Dublin-based Norwegian Air
The failure by US authorities to issue a permit to Dublin-based Norwegian Air International to enable it to operate flights to America could damage the proposed EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the EU Transport Commissioner has warned her counterpart in Washington.
In a hard-hitting letter to US Secretary of Transportation, Anthony Foxx, Commissioner Violeta Bulc said the delay in issuing the permit Norwegian Air International requires could have wider implications for economic relations between America and Europe.
"I am also concerned, as (are) some of my colleagues, about the consequences that this matter could have, not only in our aviation relations, but in the overall economic and trade transatlantic agenda," Ms Bulc said in her letter, which has been seen by the Irish Independent.
"At a time when closer bilateral ties are being put into question by many sectors of our societies, we should carefully consider the implications that this long and protracted dispute could have, for example, in the TTIP negotiations after both sides' legal teams share the assessment of the case."
Ms Bulc also copied the letter to US Secretary of State John Kerry, the White House Chief of Staff, Denis McDonough, and the US Deputy National Security Adviser for International Economic Affairs, Adewale Adeyemo.
Norwegian Air International (NAI) is a unit of Norwegian Air Shuttle. It established a base in Ireland in order to benefit from rights under the EU-US Open Skies agreement.
That agreement allows any European Union carrier to fly from anywhere in the union to any location in the US.
Likewise, US airlines can fly from anywhere in the US to anywhere in the EU. Among the routes NAI wants to launch are services from Cork to Boston and New York.
But there's been fierce opposition to NAI's plans from US aviation unions.
They claim that NAI is being used by Norwegian Air Shuttle to circumvent more stringent labour laws in Norway, and that grant it a permit to fly to the US would result in the eventual loss of tens of thousands of US aviation jobs. They claim that NAI would use cheap Asian staff to cut costs on its services. Norwegian Air Shuttle has repeatedly denied all those claims, and pledged to only use US and European crew on its transatlantic flights.
The US Department of Transportation indicated in April that it intended to grant NAI its permit. But since then, the approval process has stalled.
It's likely that it will be left to the next US administration to deal with, despite assurances that the matter would be concluded by now.
"I find it regrettable that this is the outcome after more than two years to deliberation and despite the patience and the goodwill that the EU has shown," Ms Bulc has told Mr Foxx.
Ms Bulc has requested that the matter be brought to arbitration.
Last month, Norwegian's UK unit was denied a new interim flying permit from US authorities, a move Ms Bulc said has caused "serious concerns" in Brussels.