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War of words erupts over Norwegian's flights to US

March 14th, 2016 10:05 PM

By Siobhan Cronin

IALPA chief Captain Evan Cullen: critical of the plan

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A WAR of words appears to have broken out between a number of parties, regarding the planned Cork to Boston/New York flights by airline Norwegian Air International (NAI).

The airline has responded after Irish pilots warned against Cork becoming a ‘pawn in a transatlantic legal battle with the US Department of Transport (DOT) over Asian-contract flight crew’.

But NAI, in a strongly-worded response, has refuted the claim that Asian crew were to be part of the new routes.

The planned flights, due to launch this May from Cork, have since been postponed, due to the delay in Norwegian getting a permit from the US DOT. 

Irish Air Line Pilots’ Association (IALPA) president Captain Evan Cullen has claimed ‘Norwegian could already be flying from Cork to the US … under the permits it already holds’.  

Norwegian already flies from London Gatwick to the US, from several Scandinavian cities to the US, and has recently announced a service from Paris to the US.  ‘All this flying is, or will be, performed under the several US permits which Norwegian already possesses.  Norwegian’s assertion that it cannot fly from Cork to the US is disingenuous and misleading.  Airport management and politicians should be asking why Norwegian will not use its existing rights,’ Cpt Cullen told The Southern Star.

And he claimed Norwegian is stalling on the issue because it wants the US permit for its NAI subsidiary – ‘a company that continues to employ flight crews under individual Asian contracts’.  

‘Norwegian seek to use NAI to operate Cork-Boston, but it could use any of its other permits to fly the route,’ said Cpt Cullen. ‘A transatlantic coalition of airlines and unions has argued that NAI’s application should not be approved because its conduct diminishes the high labour standards embodied in the US-EU air service agreement. Indeed, Ireland as a signatory to the agreement commits that “the opportunities created by the Agreement are not intended to undermine labour standards or … rights or principles contained in [Irish] laws”, said the IALPA boss.

‘Those who seek to advance aviation in Ireland and the standards attached to it should not condone nor be drawn into Norwegian’s gamesmanship in using Cork as a pawn in a transatlantic legal battle with the USDOT over Asian-contract flight crew,’ he added.

But this week Norwegian hit back at the claims, saying it does not ‘employ crew under Asian contracts in its operation’. It adds: ‘All flight crews of NAI are hired on local law employment contracts at their home base, governed by the labour and social laws and regulations, including EU regulations, in that jurisdiction.’

‘Unfortunately,’ it adds, in a letter sent to Deputy Jim Daly, ‘the obstruction by the US DOT has caused a delay for the Cork – Boston service, but should this situation be resolved in the near future, we will do everything to get that service up and running already this summer’, and it urges the Irish government and local governments, airports and politicians, to apply pressure on the US government to end the ’26 months long’ ordeal.

Capt Cullen said he could not comment on the NAI response without seeing it in full, but he noted the response was purportedly co-signed by an IALPA member – ‘but there is no one on the Ialpa membership by that name’, Capt Cullen said.

In another twist, the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) joined the chorus this week, also claiming Capt Cullen’s assertions were inaccurate. In a letter to Deputy Daly, the IAA said that Norwegian has guaranteed that only US or European citizens will be used as pilot or cabin crew on the transatlantic operations. THE IAA said IALPA ‘expresses the views of stakeholders who oppose competition on the transatlantic (sic) in order to protect the status quo.’

Deputy Daly said he had raised the issue with the Taoiseach who will seek a meeting with the Washington authorities during his St Patrick’s Day visit.

MEP for Ireland South, Deirdre Clune, has said that it is ‘in everyone’s interests’ that the matter is resolved, ‘I have contacted Norwegian to establish why they are not operating under existing permits, as they are entitled to do. I await their reply,’ she told The Southern Star.

Ms Clune has been appointed as a negotiator for the European Parliament in the upcoming discussions with the European Commission on a new EU-wide aviation strategy for Europe. 

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