Norwegian Air gets preliminary OK for U.S. routes

The Department of Transportation on Friday tentatively approved a foreign air carrier permit for Norwegian Air International.

The finding means the end of a 28-month wait could be in sight for the Ireland-based sister company of ultralow-cost carrier Norwegian Air Shuttle.

As of May, Norwegian Air Group, the parent company, will operate 29 routes between the U.S and its territories and Europe using the Norway-based Norwegian Air Shuttle. But executives have said that approval from the DOT of the Ireland-based company would allow it to more easily expand its connecting route network to South America, Asia and Africa.

While Ireland is a member of the European Union (EU), Norway is not, and therefore Norwegian Shuttle cannot as easily take advantage of international EU aviation agreements as Norwegian Air International could.

The Norwegian Air International application has drawn opposition from the legacy U.S. carriers American, Delta and United as well as from Lufthansa, Air France-KLM and the Air Line Pilots Association International (ALPA), which accuse Norwegian of attempting to take advantage of Irish labor laws that are less strict than the labor laws of Norway. Such a move, they say, violates the U.S.-EU open skies agreement.

The DOT’s inordinately lengthy review of the Norwegian application — the average review takes just 52 days according to Norwegian — led to questions from the applicant and analysts alike about whether the process had been politicized.

In a statement Friday, the DOT explained that in order to examine the labor-related charges it took the unprecedented step of formally consulting the Department of State and the Department of Justice. Ultimately, the agency determined that labor provisions within the U.S.-EU aviation agreement don’t provide a basis for rejecting an otherwise qualified foreign air carrier permit application.

Norwegian praised the tentative ruling Friday, saying that once it is made final, the permit will allow Norwegian Air International to begin the first-ever service between Boston and Cork, Ireland, among other routes.

“A final approval, based on the Open Skies Agreement between the U.S. and EU, will be a win-win for consumers and the economy on both sides of the Atlantic,” CEO Bjorn Kjos said in a statement.

Opponents of Norwegian’s Irish entity have until May 6 to submit objections to the tentative DOT permit approval. Supporters will then have until May 13 to submit answers to those objections. The DOT will review those submissions before issuing a final order.

 

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