NAI CEO, Bjørn Kjos’ Speech at the International Aviation Club in Washington, DC

Norwegian Air International Will Create American Jobs, Boost Tourism and Give Americans Affordable Transatlantic Airfares

Bjørn Kjos’ speech at the International Aviation Club in Washington, DC,
November 20, 2014

Good afternoon, everybody. Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to talk about Norwegian and how we will contribute to making sure that all Americans can afford to fly intercontinentally.

Let me start with a two quotations:

First: “I know everybody would be interested in cheaper airline tickets.”

Second: “Tourism is America’s most important, and largest, services export: growth in international visitors has created roughly 175,000 American jobs over the past five years. Our goal is 100 million visitors in 2021 supporting hundreds of thousands of additional jobs”.

These are not my or Norwegian’s words, but the words of President Obama.

I can, however, confirm President Obama’s words: Our new transatlantic flights on brand new Boeing 787 Dreamliners prove that the American people want cheaper international fares. Why? Because our flights are full and 40-50 percent of all our passengers are American. The other passengers on our flights are Europeans who are helping America reach the President’s goal of expanding tourism by serving new city-pairs and making a trip to the United States affordable for those who were previously priced out of the market on other carriers Lower fares are a win-win for the U.S. and EU economies.

Norwegian is ready, willing, and able to continue to give everybody in this great country the cheaper fares they want and deserve. The hundreds of thousands of tourists and other visitors that Norwegian aims to bring to America every year will boost the economy by hundreds of millions of dollars flowing to U.S. hotels, restaurants, resorts, rental cars, and other travel related expenditures. And we will also create thousands of new U.S. jobs – just as President Obama explained. I will talk more about this later.

Now, let me share with you some facts about our company. 12 years ago we started our operation offering four domestic routes in Norway. Norwegian has during the past years grown from being a small domestic airline in Norway to become the world’s seventh largest low-cost airline. From our original base in Norway, we have expanded to include subsidiaries in several EU countries; have safely carried about 130 million passengers since 2002; have 100 aircraft in our fleet and more than 250 Boeing aircraft on order; and employ 4,500 people in Europe, Asia and the U.S. But it has at times been a turbulent journey. Even before we were airborne, our competitors launched a massive PR and lobbying campaign to block us. Scandinavian Airlines tried to stop us by spying on our ticket systems and breaking in to our IT systems. They were convicted in the Supreme Court for industrial espionage and fined 30 million dollars.

Now, history is repeating itself in the U.S. when unfair means are used to stop a new competitor. The big network airlines and their unions are spending millions of dollars on slanderous campaigns and lobbying.

We entered the U.S. market with our low fares and brand new Boeing Dreamliners in 2013. We offer non-stop flights from Fort Lauderdale, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco-Oakland and Orlando to Scandinavia and the UK. We have 300 U.S. crew members at our bases in Fort Lauderdale and New York. We are currently recruiting pilots in New York and Fort Lauderdale. About 7,000 people applied for the 300 cabin positions. The majority of those we hired came to us from other U.S. airlines. I would like to take a moment to acknowledge several of our U.S. crew members from JFK and Fort Lauderdale who here with us today.

Needless to say, we are offering something attractive. The American people love us and our affordable fares. Just look at the response from our customers: 40-50 percent of all the seats are occupied by Americans going to and Europe! By the end of the year, we will have carried more than half a million passengers to the U.S. We are boosting the local economy, not least in areas served by airports such as Orlando, Oakland, and Fort Lauderale that have limited international service. And not to mention our order and options of more than 250 U.S.-made Boeing aircraft. I’m sure that Boeing’s representatives here today welcome our long-term relationship. That commitment is sustaining thousands of high-quality, well-paying jobs at Boeing and its vast network of suppliers throughout the United States.

Fear of competition is the reason for the controversy about our EU licensed airline based in Ireland. Norwegian Air InternationaI is planning to have the same set-up as its parent company, Norwegian Air Shuttle, which is operating flights to and from the U.S. today: The same airplanes, the same pilots (all of them with European licenses), the same cabin crew – most of them Americans – and the same destinations. The paradox is: Norwegian Air Shuttle will continue to fly to and from the U.S. with its Norway-based license until our subsidiary gets the long overdue permit from the DOT. What is the difference?

Some of you may wonder why we have established a company in Ireland. The answer is simple: Norway is not a part of the EU and we need a foothold in the EU to operate routes to Asia, Africa and South America under the air traffic treaties negotiated by the EU. Because Norway is not a part of the EU, we don’t have access to the EU traffic rights that we need to grow. We can’t have one company that operates routes to/from the U.S. and one that operates routes to other parts of the world. And let me once and for all eliminate the misrepresentations about safety that our opponents have attempted to spin up: At Norwegian, safety is the number one priority. So far we have safely carried more than 130 million passengers without any accidents. Ireland, which oversees our operations, has one of the highest ranked civil aviation authorities in the world and is more than capable to provide safety oversight of Norwegian Air International. The Norwegian civil aviation authorities are based in Bodø, a small town in northern Norway. Both the Irish and Norwegian civil aviation authorities professionally perform their oversight in accordance with the same EU regulations regardless of the location of the crew base. For that matter, the authorities could have had their offices on the North Pole. The only practical difference is that the Irish authorities oversee more aircraft and speak English – not Norwegian. Nobody would say that Air Lingus is unsafe.

Opponents have also made allegations about the way we compensate our crews. The truth is that we always pay competitive wages and benefits. If you work in Norway, you get competitive Norwegian wages, if you work in the UK you get competitive British wages and if you work in the U.S. you get competitive American wages and benefits. Do you think crews from Delta, United and American would leave jobs at those airlines and start working for us if our “package” was inferior? Why don’t you ask our U.S. crew members sitting at that table?

I notice a delegation of pilots in the audience. I assume you are interested in some basic facts about our Dreamliner pilots. Our captains average more than 13,000 flight hours. Many of them have taken early retirement from KLM, British Airways and Finnair with an average of 10,000 flight hours on widebody airplanes. Our long-haul captains are probably the most experienced in the skies today Do you think they are unsafe?

Thankfully, we have many supporters in the U.S. that understand the importance of competition and affordable airfares. I would like to thank our airport supporters at Orlando, Oakland, Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles and JFK airports and the Washington Area Task Force and our pro-consumer supporters at U.S. Travel, Travelers United, TravelTech, and the American Society of Travel Agents.

I would also like to thank local governments in California and Florida, the three former U.S. Secretaries of Transportation Andy Card, Norman Mineta and Mary Peters, and U.S. carriers FedEx and Atlas for their strong public support. And, finally, I would like to thank the hundreds of crewmembers who have joined our team here in America, several of whom are here with us today. Our success is a direct result of their hard work and dedication.

At Norwegian we are positioning us for a future that offers endless possibilities if we do things right. The Dreamliner will continue to be a game changer. It will enable us to profitably connect a wide range of exiting cities that were never imaginable a few years ago. As an example, we are exploring the possibility of launching the first non-stop service between Europe and Hawaii. The continued rise of the middle class in Asia will create a new market of travelers wanting to visit their family members in Europe and the U.S. And those who want the fastest and cheapest route from Asia to the U.S. will connect through Stockholm – not the Middle East, if the DOT approves our application. Another revolutionary airplane is also on the way: The Boeing 737 MAX. With its longer range and fuel-efficient innovations, it will enable us to connect smaller city pairs on different continents, bypassing the big hubs. People want to fly direct and not spend unnecessary time at the hubs waiting for their connecting flights. There is no doubt in my mind that the entrance of low-cost long-haul made possible by new aircraft types will revolutionize the aviation industry the way low-cost short-haul did decades ago. By offering low fares everybody can afford, we will create a new market of travelers, consequently creating millions of new jobs. There are indeed exciting times ahead.

But – the longer our opponents are able to delay DOT approval of our application, the longer it will take for us to offer even lower fares, to open additional routes between new destinations in Europe and the United States. The longer it will take for us to hire more American crew members like the fantastic ones present here today. The longer it will take us to bring even more tourists to the U.S. The longer it will take to create hundreds of thousands of new jobs in the travel and tourism related industries. The longer it will take to connect the U.S. and the rest of the world beyond Europe, something that is only possible with our EU subsidiary. The longer it will take for us to place more Dreamliner orders. We are looking at establishing new crew bases in California and will do so as soon as DOT approves the application.

Our DOT application is in full accordance with the U.S.-EU Open Skies Agreement. We have always played by the rules and have managed to win our customers’ hearts and loyalty, something we are determined to continue doing in the U.S. market. It’s time to let Norwegian Air International fly – the approval is long overdue.

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