Norwegian Air Gets OK for U.S. Flights, Despite Opposition from Rivals

LOS ANGELES (Los Angeles Times/TNS) -

The U.S. Department of Transportation has given a green light for Norwegian Air International to begin regular flights to the U.S. from a base in Ireland, despite an outcry from U.S. carriers and airline workers.

The airline, a subsidiary of Norway-based Norwegian Air Shuttle, one of Europe’s biggest low-cost carriers, wants to bring its low-priced flights to the popular trans-Atlantic market.

But U.S. carriers and their workers’ union accuse Norwegian of trying to skirt labor laws by establishing a base in Ireland and hiring pilots out of Asia.

“DOT is proposing to allow a foreign airline to compete directly with U.S. airlines on long-haul international routes with unfair economic advantages,” said Tim Canoll, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, which represents 52,000 pilots in the U.S. and Canada.

Norwegian has rejected such charges, saying the company abides by the labor laws of each country it serves. The company said its rivals are misleading the public to keep out a low-cost competitor.

“Our continued presence in the U.S. will create thousands of jobs and generate tens of millions of dollars of economic activity for the group’s U.S. destinations,” said Bjorn Kjos, chief executive of Norwegian Air Shuttle.

The Department of Transportation issued a statement Friday saying it had investigated the allegations of labor law violations and found no legal basis to deny the carrier a permit to fly from its base in Ireland to the U.S. (Norwegian already flies to the U.S. from its base in Norway.)

The Department of Transportation will allow interested parties to file objections to its decision, due by May 6, before it issues a final order.

Norwegian already has prepared for an expansion by ordering 149 Boeing 737s and 787 jets, valued at more than $18.5 billion. During the past seven years, Norwegian has taken delivery of 103 new U.S. manufactured Boeing aircraft.