Thirty-two US Congressmen have written to President Barack Obama urging his administration to block the granting of a foreign carrier licence that would allow the first US flights from Cork airport.
In April 2016, the US Department of Transport (DofT) made a tentative decision to grant a foreign carrier permit to Irish-based airline Norwegian Air International (NAI), a subsidiary of low-fares giant Norwegian.
The airline wish to begin a Cork to Boston route this year, which would extend to Barcelona, and also wish to start a Cork-New York route in 2017.
The DofT’s decision has been met with some criticism, however, with 32 Congressmen writing to President Obama to put a stop to the licence and four Congressmen attempting to introduce legislation that would block the permit.
Democratic Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders has also voiced his opposition to the granting of a foreign carrier licence to NAI.
Earlier this week, NAI received technical certification that will allow them to operate certain aircraft on their proposed transatlantic route but are not yet allowed to sell tickets until the foreign carrier permit has been completely signed off.
The DofT deadline for submission in relation to its tentative decision closed earlier this week and they are expected to provide answers to those submission in the coming weeks.
The Congressmen's letter comes after this deadline in a bid to convince the President that NAI will operate against the terms laid out by the US-EU Open Skies Agreement if it is awarded the foreign carrier licence.
“Market liberalisation has improved service options for consumers, spurred fare competition, increased travel to the US, and opened opportunities for US carriers in new markets,” the Congressman said of the Open Skies Agreement.
“The benefits come as a result, in part, of provisions designed to ensure our aviation labour forces continue to enjoy strong employment protections.”
They argue that as a Norwegian-owned company, NAI and its base in Ireland should not be granted a licence, accusing the company of plans to outsource employees from Asia.
“We understand that NAI does not plan to locate significant operations in Ireland and may hire some employees under Singaporean or Thai employment contracts,” they claim.
“This structure could allow NAI to avoid the labour and employment protections in Norwegian and EU law. This type of arrangement appears to be exactly what the labour provisions of the agreement (Open Skies) are intended to prevent.”
“It is troubling that DoT does not appear to have done its own analysis of whether the application does in fact violate these elements of the agreement.
“Instead, DoT only concluded that certain labour provisions alone cannot be used as the basis for denying an application.”
NAI have consistently denied claims that they will employ foreign workers on the Cork-Boston route, highlighting that since applying for the permit two years ago, they have faced a rigorous assessment from the DofT to ensure they comply with Open Skies.
A spokesman for the airline stated: "Some US politicians and unions are continuing to do everything they can to block the competition, preventing passengers' access to affordable airfares, and blocking the creation of new jobs and significant benefits to Ireland and the US.
"The fact remains that NAI is a recognized EU airline, with a Dublin headquarters, more than 35 aircraft registered in Ireland and a series of new routes from Ireland planned.
"It is also a clear fact that Norwegian always follows labor laws in all the markets we operate, offering competitive wages and conditions. NAI does not have a single Asian-based crewmember or pilot."
In their letter, the Congressmen continued to warn the President of the negative effects to the Agreement if the licence is granted and the damage is could cause to the US aviation industry.
“Bilateral air transport agreements have enjoyed wide support in the US because they have successfully fostered increased competition while providing greater opportunities for US airlines and their workers,” they write.
“Approving NAI’s foreign air carrier permit application would upset this careful balance and seriously harm the US aviation industry.”
A timeline for a final decision in the permit is still unknown, although President Obama told Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny in March that there is no legal impediment to the granting of the licence.
If the licence is denied, the European Commission are poised to trigger arbitration.
Earlier this week anti-Cork-US flight protesters made an unfortunate error in their campaign against the proposed routes.
Hiring a skywriter to emblazon “Deny NAI” i the sky over Washington DC, the pilot instead wrote “Deny NIA” although they returned later in the day to fix their typo.
H/T: The Irish Examiner