The U.S. Department of Transportation on Friday approved Norwegian Air International’s application for a foreign carrier permit, drawing immediate condemnation from U.S. airline lobbying interests and applause from consumer groups. A day earlier the European Commission filed for arbitration over the three-year-old dispute and formally charged the U.S. with breaching the EU-U.S. Air Transport Agreement, or so-called Open Skies pact.
The Irish subsidiary of Norwegian Air Shuttle, which already flies to the U.S. under its Norwegian air operator certificate, applied for rights to fly to the States in December 2013. Under pressure from U.S. airlines and legislators to deny the application due to what they consider NAI’s unfair labor practices, U.S. authorities delayed issuing a foreign operators permit far beyond the customary timeframe, according to the EC.
Critics of Norwegian’s business model, in which its NAI subsidiary flies under an Irish operating certificate and employs contract workers based in Thailand, claim the arrangement amounts to a subversion of labor standards. The EC, meanwhile, holds the position that the EU-U.S. Air Transport Agreement requires a “swift” decision from the DOT, which, in fact, granted tentative approval on April 15, 2016.
“We welcome the long overdue news that Norwegian Air International (NAI) has finally been awarded a foreign carrier permit by the US Department of Transportation,” said Norwegian in a statement. “While the delays Norwegian have faced have been unfortunate and unnecessary, ultimately the decision now made by the US DOT finally paves the way for greater competition, more flights and more jobs on both sides of the Atlantic.”