PHOTO: Norwegian Air.

LONDON – A federal appeals panel in the United States has upheld the DOT ‘s (Department of Transportation) approval for Norwegian Air International to operate in the U.S.

The opponent consisted of four unions (Air Line Pilots Association, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, the Allied Pilots Association and the Southwest Airlines Association) representing 135,000 workers in the aviation sector who argued that Norwegian was avoiding labor laws through their corporate structure, which was listed as “unusual”.

The three-judge panel in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals stated that federal law or international agreement allowed the basis for the department to reject the airline’s application as it satisfied the requirements needed for the license. The DOT agreed this was the case after three years of internal debate between the DOT, the Unions and Norwegian.

Union concern about these operations was that Norwegian represented unfair competition because they would hire crews for lower wages, thus keeping their costs low and being able to maintain themselves as a low-cost carrier.

Norwegian hit back initially saying it was an unfair criticism as they were buying $13.8 billion worth of Boeing jets and hiring U.S workers. The complaint was based on the Norwegian Air Shuttle subsidiary being based in Ireland which seeks the least governmental regulation.

“While we are disappointed, ALPA is no less determined in calling for the United States to enforce its trade agreements and ensure U.S. workers have a fair opportunity to compete internationally,” said Capt. Tim Canoll, who heads the union.

“We will work with lawmakers to build on the already strong Congressional support for ensuring foreign airlines comply with U.S. trade deals and review this court decision and take appropriate action to defend U.S. workers’ jobs.”

The legal dispute itself is around the Open Skies Agreements that the U.S negotiates with other countries around the world, which enables the international carriers to fly unhindered operations between them.

There is a provision in the agreement with the EU that states “opportunities created by the agreement are not intended to undermine labor standards”, which was why Norwegian was headquartered in Ireland. The DOT ruled also there was nothing in the Open Skies agreement to prevent approval of the application.

“We welcome today’s decision by the D.C. Circuit, affirming the right of Norwegian Air International to operate to the United States,” said Anders Lindstrom, an airline spokesman. “This is a victory for consumers on both sides of the Atlantic.”
The court, with David Tatel as the head of the court, said that although the airline’s model and labor practices weren’t in the public interest, there was nothing in the application that prevented approval.
The unions conceded during the proceedings that the airline was “fit, willing and able to provide the service”.
Judith Rogers made the point that unions could still push for the labor standard to be brought up at a joint committee to look at the international agreements and dissect it even further. Finally, David Sentelle said that he disagreed with an earlier decision that allowed the unions to challenge the department.

Overall, this is a big win for Norwegian as they can now branch out even further into the United States without any opposition.

With the courts upholding the approval of the DOT permit, it now means that the Unions can only do so much and are now limited in what they can do because of the fact that the flights will go ahead regardless.