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US unions' plead with Leo Varadkar over Norwegian air licence

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Bjoern Kjos, chief executive officer of Norwegian Air Shuttle

Bjoern Kjos, chief executive officer of Norwegian Air Shuttle

Bloomberg

Bjoern Kjos, chief executive officer of Norwegian Air Shuttle

Transport Minister Leo Varadkar has been asked by a US union body to "carefully consider" the implications of awarding the long-haul arm of Scandinavian airline Norwegian a licence to operate its service using a base in Ireland.

In a letter sent to Mr Varadkar over the weekend and seen by the Irish Independent, the head of the Washington DC-based union umbrella group Transportation Trades Department (TDD), Edward Wytkind, claims that the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) and the Commission for Aviation Regulation (CAR) should reject the licence application by Norwegian Air International (NAI).

NAI is controversially hoping to base its long-haul service to the US and Asia in Ireland in order, it's claimed by opponents, to bypass rules in its home country that would prevent it from hiring cheaper Thai staff and to avoid other tougher labour rules.

Norwegian Air Shuttle – the company behind Norwegian – recently injected $53m (€39m) into its Irish subsidiary, Norwegian Air International. The long-haul arm has rented office space near Dublin Airport and started hiring staff but would not offer flights from Ireland.

The long-haul service, with aircraft registered here, already operates routes from Scandinavia to the US and Thailand.

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Mr Wytkind insisted in his letter to Mr Varadkar that Article 17 of a US-EU Air Transport Agreement underlines that "opportunities created by the agreement are not intended to undermine labour standards or labour-related rights in the parties' respective laws".

He claims that, as such, NAI's efforts to secure an Irish Air Operator Certificate (AOC) should be refused.

The IAA declined to comment.

A spokesman for the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport also said it would be "inappropriate to comment".

Huge pressure is being put on US and EU authorities, as well as those in Norway, to prevent NAI from gaining an Irish AOC or proceeding with its base here.

"NAI is also seeking to establish itself as an Irish carrier precisely to avoid application of Norway's labour laws to the pilots and flight attendants who operate its aircraft," claimed Mr Wytkind.

But Norwegian has described allegations by pilot unions that it's attempting to circumvent labour laws in its home country and that it's using Ireland as a flag of convenience, as "false and misleading".

"The main reason for Norwegian's relocation to Ireland is access to EU traffic rights," a spokeswoman told the Irish Independent.

"Several other European countries, included the UK and Sweden, were considered before Norwegian's management and board decided to establish the company's fully owned subsidiary Norwegian Air International in Ireland."

Irish Independent