U.S. and European airline labor groups have lined up to oppose an application by Norwegian Air Shuttle’s new UK subsidiary to operate flights to the United States from London’s Gatwick Airport. The groups allege that the subsidiary would be a “flag of convenience” carrier that undercuts labor standards, an allegation they have made against Norwegian’s Ireland-based subsidiary.
The new subsidiary—Norwegian Air UK—plans to begin long-haul service in the first quarter, having obtained an operating license from the UK Civil Aviation Authority on November 13. The license should “open the door for further UK expansion” and potentially add new routes to Asia, South America and South Africa, the parent airline said.
On December 11, Norwegian Air UK applied to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) for a foreign air carrier permit to conduct scheduled and charter flights to the U.S. from Gatwick Airport. The carrier requested expedited processing to begin services “as soon as possible,” stating that it would “capitalize on the Norwegian Group’s large and growing position” in the UK to operate. The low-cost carrier has based more than 400 pilots and crew at Gatwick, its UK hub.
Similarly, Norwegian Air Shuttle applied for a foreign air carrier permit in December 2013 for its Ireland-based Norwegian Air International (NAI) subsidiary to operate to and from the U.S. Labor groups and several major U.S. and European carriers oppose that application, alleging that Norwegian seeks to evade both Norwegian and international labor laws and pay pilots less by establishing NAI as an Irish airline. That application is still pending with the DOT.
Norwegian’s application for its UK subsidiary met with a similar reception. “While the application is scarce on details, this is a continuation of Norwegian’s efforts to introduce a flag of convenience airline into the transatlantic marketplace,” said the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, a coalition of unions that represent transportation workers including pilots, flight attendants and air traffic controllers.
In a January 4 filing with the DOT, labor groups contend that approving Norwegian Air UK’s application “would be incompatible” with a “social clause” labor provision of the U.S.-European Union Air Transport Agreement. “While NAUK’s minimalist application does not disclose what the applicant’s plans are with respect to employment of the pilots and flight attendants who would staff its long-haul operations, it is possible that NAUK intends to use the same model employed by NAI,” the groups state in the filing.
The parties to the filing are the Air Line Pilots Association, the Transportation Trades Department, the Transport Workers Union of America, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and the European Cockpit Association.
Norwegian issued the following statement in response to this article: "Following the UK Air Operating Certificate granted to Norwegian, a UK application has been made to the U.S. Department of Transportation for a foreign carrier permit. This is an important step in our plans for continued growth, more routes and new jobs in the UK. All current and future employees in our operation at UK bases will have contracts governed by UK employment law. Norwegian already has major operations and a large route network from UK airports, together with a large base of more than 400 pilots and crew at London Gatwick so we look forward to the DOT's consideration of the UK application.”