Trump team backs Norwegian Air in row over US flights
Powerful US airline unions have failed to demonstrate how Norwegian Air International's (NAI) launch of services from Ireland to the United States will lower working conditions for pilots and cabin crew, the US Department of Transportation has argued in court filings.
The American unions have asked a US court in Washington to overturn the decision that paved the way for Norwegian to launch low fares flights from Europe to the US earlier this month.
In a searing submission filed with the US Court of Appeal on Friday evening and seen by the Irish Independent, the US Department of Transportation (DOT) said unions opposed to allowing Dublin headquartered NAI to launch flights between Europe and the United States had provided no more than "speculative" arguments to the court that are "at odds with the information in the administrative record".
In a hugely controversial move in the US last December, the then Obama administration granted NAI a permit to fly between the EU and America under the Open Skies agreement.
NAI had been established in Ireland by parent Norwegian Air Shuttle, enabling the carrier to avail of rights under that Open Skies agreement not available to Norwegian carriers.
Open Skies allows any EU-based airline to fly to any destination in the US from anywhere in the EU, and vice versa.
But NAI had to battle for four years to secure the permit as intense lobbying by US aviation unions and politicians delayed the NAI's application.
The delay in granting the permit eventually led last year to the European Commission warning that the issue could prompt a wider trade war between the EU and the United States.
The unions that have taken the appeal, including the Airline Pilots' Association, the Association of Flight Attendants and the Southwest Airlines Pilots' Association, represent about 100,000 members.
They have argued that Norwegian Air Shuttle only established the Irish unit to skirt stricter Norwegian labour laws and previously claimed that the airline would hire cheap Asian crews for transatlantic services, undermining other carriers on the hugely profitable sector.
Norwegian has consistently denied the allegations, however.
The unions want the court of appeal to rescind the granting of the permit, or to have it reviewed.
NAI launched its flights between Ireland and the US just over a week ago.
In its submission, the DOT, now part of the Trump administration which is less committed to free trade, weighed in heavily in favour of retaining the Norwegian flights.
"Although petitioners (unions) do not explain their theory of causation, it appears to be premised on an assumption that existing carriers that provide service between the United States and foreign locations will pay less and provide less desirable conditions of employment to their own pilots and flight crews as a result of increased competition, or conversely, that existing carriers will lose market share on existing flight routes, thus forcing pilots and other air crew members to work for Norwegian Air instead of a higher-paying competitor," the DOT said in its submission to the appeals court.
"Each step of this attenuated causal link is speculative, and at odds with information in the administrative record."
It adds: "To the contrary, information in the administrative record suggests that the increased demand for pilots and flight crew, and employees' strong bargaining position, could result in higher wages and improved working conditions."