Norwegian Air Gets Tentative Nod on U.S. Flights Over Protests

  • Transportation Department finds `no legal basis' for denial
  • Norwegian plans to use pilots hired in Singapore, unions say

Norwegian Air Shuttle AS will be able expand its flights to the U.S. under a temporary approval granted by the Transportation Department over vociferous objections by airlines and labor unions.

After a thorough review of public comments over the past year and a half, and consultations with the Justice Department and the State Department, U.S. transportation regulators said Friday the Norwegian Air application “appears to meet DOT’s normal standards for award of permit” with “no legal basis” to deny the plan.

If the plan receives final approval, it “will be win-win for consumers and the economy on both sides of the Atlantic,” Bjørn Kjos, chief executive officer of Norwegian Group, said in a news release. “It will allow Norwegian to expand our U.S. operations. Our continued presence in the U.S. will create thousands of jobs and generate tens of millions of dollars of economic activity.”

Norwegian plans to use a subsidiary in Ireland to hire pilots through a Singapore employment company and base its cockpit crews in Thailand, skirting Norway’s social laws, according to the Air Line Pilots Association, North America’s largest pilot’s union.

Airlines Opposed

Delta Air Lines Inc., American Airlines Group Inc. and United Continental Holdings Inc. all filed comments urging the Transportation Department to reject the application. They said the regulatory framework would circumvent labor-protection laws and give the carrier an unfair advantage.

The decision reverses signals the department sent in September 2014, when it said it needed to take a closer look at labor issues and oversight as part of its review of Norwegian Air’s application.

“We are extremely disappointed by the DOT’s intention to permit Norwegian Air International to fly to and from the United States because it is an affront to fair competition,” said Captain Tim Canoll, president of the Air Line Pilots Association in Washington, in a statement Friday. “DOT is proposing to allow a foreign airline to compete directly with U.S. airlines on long-haul international routes with unfair economic advantages.”

DOT said the tentative order is open for public comment by interested parties. Comments are due by May 6 and the department will review the submissions before issuing a final order.

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