WASHINGTON, D.C. (Dec. 5, 2016) — Negative reaction was swift and harsh after the U.S. Department of Transportation announced Friday that it has awarded Norwegian Air International (NAI) a foreign air carrier permit to operate in the United States. Domestic airlines, unions and many lawmakers opposed as unfair competition, including Rep. Rick Larsen (D-WA) who called the decision a “slap in the face to American workers.”
Unless President Barack Obama intervenes to reverse the decision, NAI is now positioned to be the first “flag of convenience” airline allowed to operate in the U.S., skirting labor and safety laws by being headquartered in Ireland and potentially hiring foreign crews for below-market wages and benefits.
“This is a slap in the face to American workers,” said Larsen (D-WA), Frank A. LoBiondo (R-NJ), and Peter DeFazio (D-OR) in a joint statement released Friday. “Today’s decision by the Department of Transportation to award NAI a foreign air carrier permit is in direct contravention of Article 17 bis of the U.S.-EU Open Skies Agreement, and says to the world that the U.S. will reward countries that break their commitments to protecting workers.”
Edward Wytkind, president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), issued the following statement:
“Today’s decision betrays America’s aviation workers by granting a rogue, flag-of-convenience airline a permit to serve the United States. Unless reversed, this decision threatens a generation of U.S. airline jobs and tells foreign airlines that scour the globe for cheap labor and lax employment laws that America is open for business.
“On behalf of the nation’s several million transportation workers, and especially the men and women who form the backbone of U.S. aviation, I appeal to the President to reverse this decision by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
“NAI’s business model clearly and blatantly violates Article 17 bis of the 2010 U.S.-EU Open Skies Agreement, which states that the ‘opportunities created by the Agreement are not intended to undermine labor standards or the labor-related rights and principles contained in the Parties’ respective laws.’ 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 and should be denied entry into our marketplace. With this decision, the Obama Administration has failed to enforce the very labor protection it negotiated and sold as a breakthrough in aviation trade policy.
“It is because of NAI’s blatant disregard for our trade laws that unions in the U.S. and Europe, major airlines, and Republican and Democratic members of Congress have all taken a strong stance against the airline’s application. Given the disgust with our trade policies expressed loudly by American voters on November 8, it is especially galling that the Administration has ignored the wants of the American people in favor of a rogue, foreign airline. We urge Congress to take whatever action is needed to undo this decision and prevent NAI and similar business models from poisoning the trans-Atlantic aviation market.
“Today’s decision effectively ushers in a new era in aviation, one in which high-road air carriers will be forced to compete with sweatshop-like airlines. Unless this decision is reversed, U.S. aviation workers will become the latest victims of perverse trade policy.”