NAI supporters dispel opponent claims as unions protest in Washington

Accusations from those opposed to granting Norwegian Air International (NAI) a foreign air carrier permit are “false and slanderous,” the carrier’s supporters said Thursday.

Air Line Pilots Association, International (ALPA) members and other aviation workers gathered in front of the White House May 12 to demonstrate opposition to NAI, which has been given tentative approval by the US Department of Transportation (DOT) to begin transatlantic service under the US-European Union Open Skies agreement.

NAI, which would operate out of a base in Ireland and under the regulatory oversight of the same Irish Aviation Authority that oversees Aer Lingus and Ryanair, first applied for a permit to serve the US in December 2013.

The US has stalled its approval process, with labor groups on both sides of the Atlantic accusing NAI of operating under maritime-like “flag of convenience” operations, skirting labor, regulatory and safety rules, and using Asian crews.

But DOT, which also called on specialist legal teams at the US Departments of Justice and State in its scrutiny of NAI’s application, said in April it could find no legal or labor reason to deny the permit.

NAI is an Irish-flag low-cost subsidiary of Norwegian Air Shuttle and would operate its US services out of Cork and Shannon. Norwegian Shuttle has been flying from Oslo to Orlando, Florida for some two years.

ALPA said Thursday that more than 300 of its pilots took part in the protest along with “hundreds of other US aviation workers.”

“Airline employees, passengers and cargo shippers have raised their voices in united opposition because NAI’s business plan is designed to undermine labor standards and the intent of one of this country’s international trade agreements,” ALPA president Tim Canoll said in a statement.

ALPA has placed advertisements calling on the government “to defend US jobs and fair competition.”

On Thursday, supporters of NAI held a media briefing. They included Business Travel Coalition founder Kevin Mitchell, NAI consultant and former State deputy assistant secretary John Byerly, Greater Orlando Aviation Authority executive director Phillip Brown and US Travel Association EVP Jonathan Grella.

Byerly said some of the opposition’s accusations were “utterly false” and that statements on the safety card were “both false and slanderous.”

He said NAI would use only European and US pilots on its Ireland-US routes and that it already had a cabin crew training base in Florida.

“[NAI’s] headquarters is in Dublin and it has 80 employees there and its aircraft are registered there,” Byerly said. “The pilots must have European licenses and operate under the oversight of the Irish regulatory authority.”

Byerly said that if NAI is denied a permit, it could put into jeopardy the rights of US airlines such as Delta Air Lines to fly transatlantic routes within the US-EU Open Skies treaty.

“Open Skies is good for economic growth and for consumers and competition,” he said.

Mitchell added that Open Skies also helped to create millions of jobs for pilots, cabin crews, cargo shippers, airplane manufacturers and their suppliers, and in travel and tourism.

“If Open Skies was a bridge that, as soon as they’ve crossed the Atlantic, [the US major carriers] they now want burned, that seems to be their game plan,” Mitchell said. “I do believe that now the US carriers have secured their antitrust immunities they are demonstrating behaviors that are quite anti-competitive.”

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