Thursday, February 9, 2017

Airline Pilots Look to Trump To Revoke Norwegian Air Permit

U.S. airline pilots are pressing the Trump administration to revoke a permit that allows the Irish subsidiary of Norwegian Air Shuttle to fly to the United States. Speaking with reporters on February 8, leaders of the Air Line Pilots Association (Alpa) said President Donald Trump’s “America first” rhetoric leads them to believe that he will side with unions in denying entry to Norwegian Air International (NAI).

Alpa, the Southwest Airlines Pilots’ Association (SWAPA) and members of Congress are among critics of the December decision by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) under the Obama administration to grant NAI a foreign air carrier permit. They contend that NAI is a “flag of convenience” carrier established in Ireland to evade international labor laws and pay pilots less, contravening an Open Skies agreement with Norway and the European Union.

Alpa hosted a teleconference in advance of a scheduled February 9 meeting of airline, airport and travel industry executives with Trump at the White House. The union, which represents 55,000 pilots at airlines in the U.S. and Canada, was not invited to participate. Nevertheless, Alpa seeks a commitment from the administration—and is exploring various procedural means—to reverse the DOT permit approval.

On January 12, Alpa joined with the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, SWAPA and the Allied Pilots Association in petitioning the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to review the DOT’s action.

“For me, this is easy for the Trump administration; this is them hitting the ball out of the park,” said Todd Insler, a United Airlines captain who serves on the Alpa executive board as chairman of the airline’s master executive council. “This supports U.S. workers, this supports U.S. families. Why would they want to undercut U.S. families with cheap labor?”

Alpa president Tim Canoll added: “Our members noticed when President Trump has used this strong, positive rhetoric with regard to labor issues. It really encourages us and gives us hope that this president gets our issues. There’s a great deal of trust in our democratic system and a great deal of trust that this president will fulfill his promises.”

During a briefing on February 7, however, White House press secretary Sean Spicer suggested the Trump administration is receptive to allowing the NAI permit. “On the case of Norwegian, my understanding, if I’m correct, [is] that there is a deal in which they’re having 50 percent of the crews and the pilots [be] American-based,” Spicer said, when asked about the dispute over NAI. “They’re flying Boeing planes. There is a huge economic interest that America has in that deal right now. I don’t want to get ahead of the President on that. But just to be clear, when you’re talking about U.S. jobs, both in terms of the people who are serving those planes and the [people] building those planes—that’s a very big difference.”

Spicer’s remark reflects a “Boeing connection” to the issue, Alpa leaders contend. “I heard that comment too out of the press conference and I think it’s basically a false narrative,” said Insler. “Norwegian Air Shuttle can and does operate Boeing aircraft. NAI, the international subsidiary that they’re going to base in Ireland to skirt the labor law, will be taking those aircraft from Norwegian Air Shuttle, so the airplanes will be manufactured regardless.”

Canoll said Alpa supports the so-called Big 3 U.S. carriers Delta, American and United in a separate dispute they have with Persian Gulf carriers over alleged improper government subsidies. “They are related in one way; they’re both examples of our trade agreements not being enforced,” he said. “In the case of the Middle Eastern airlines it has to do with subsidies being received which are prohibited by the agreements. We’re fine with competing with anybody, including those Middle Eastern airlines. We’re not going to compete against subsidized governments, and that’s exactly what’s in place in both Qatar and the UAE.”

The DOT granted the NAI permit on December 2, three years after the carrier applied for the authorization. Later that month, 102 members of Congress signed a bipartisan letter to then President-elect Trump decrying what they called the “grievously wrong decision.” The signees urged Trump to revoke or suspend the permit unless Norwegian changed the NAI business model of a foreign-based subsidiary.

“Norwegian is ‘Norwegian’ in name only: its crews work under short-term contracts, many governed under Singapore law; some crewmembers are based in Bangkok; and the company is organized and regulated in Ireland,” the letter stated. “It is, for all intents and purposes, a virtual airline. Norwegian is the first airline in the transatlantic market to fly under a flag of convenience, but the [DOT’s] recent decision guarantees Norwegian will not be the last.”

(Bill Carey - AINOnline News)

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