Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton is siding with U.S. airlines and labor unions in opposition to Norwegian Air’s bid to expand its service to the U.S. – a proposal that has won tentative approval by the Transportation Department and could get final approval very soon.
Norwegian wants to shake up transatlantic air travel by offering aggressively cheap flights – the carrier is currently advertising one-way fares from Boston to London this fall for less than $195 – on comfortable Boeing 787 Dreamliners. That may sound enticing to travelers, but it terrifies U.S. airlines and their flight crews.
Clinton’s campaign said in a statement released today that the Obama administration shouldn’t allow Norwegian Air’s entry into the U.S. airline market given what the former secretary of state characterized as a history of unfair labor practices that could “threaten American jobs.”
“Workers in the U.S. airline industry deserve rules of the road that support a strong workforce with high labor standards – not attempts by airlines to flout labor standards and outsource good-paying jobs,” the statement reads. “That’s why our Open Skies agreement with Europe explicitly calls for the maintenance of high labor standards to guide parties in its implementation.”
The U.S. - EU Open Skies agreement has helped to expand transatlantic passenger and cargo flights, largely by eliminating government interference in decisions about routes and pricing. However, U.S.-based airlines, pilots and labor unions have accused Norwegian of gaming the system by registering the carrier in Ireland – where labor laws are looser than in Norway – so it can hire non-Norwegian crews at lower salaries. The U.S. carriers say that gives the discount carrier an unfair pricing advantage.
For its part, Norwegian says it already employs more U.S.-based crew members – all protected by American law – than any foreign airline and offers wages and benefits competitive with those of U.S. carriers. The airline also says it has ordered $18.5 billion in Boeing aircraft as well as Pratt & Whitney engines for its Airbus fleet, helping to sustain an estimated 100,000 American jobs.
The Transportation Department said when it granted Norwegian Air temporary approval in April that it found no legal basis for denial. The public can comment on the initial decision until May 23, and the agency will issue a final order after reviewing comments.
Last month, Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), ranking member of the Transportation Committee, and Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.), chairman of the Aviation Subcommittee, introduced legislation (H.R. 5090) that would direct the Transportation Department to require foreign airlines to meet U.S. labor standards. Lawmakers have yet to hold any hearings on the bill.
Norwegian Air’s parent company, Norwegian Air Shuttle, currently serves some American markets, but the expansion plan would provide broader access to airports throughout Europe. The carrier says final approval of the expansion plan would be a “win-win for consumers and the economy on both sides of the Atlantic.”
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