Norwegian Air denies it would hire Asian staff for Irish transatlantic flights

The airline's attempts to expand into the US have met with much resistance thus far...

The chief executive of Norwegian Air International (NAI) has written to the Irish Times, refuting recent restated claims by the head of the Irish Airline Pilots' Association, Evan Cullen that it plans to hire Asian pilots on Asian pay rates and conditions for its proposed transatlantic services out of Cork and Shannon.

This comes in the context of continued delays by the US Department of Transportation to approve a permit for the proposed services.

NAI, which is currently headquartered in Dublin and employs 80 Irish staff, set up a base in Ireland in order to benefit from the EU-US Open Skies agreement. However, there has been strong opposition to its transatlantic expansion plans from the aviation industry and politicians in the US, who believe the airline is trying to circumvent tough labour laws in Norway.

NAI’s Tore Kristian Jenssen wrote that the reason the airline has located here is that it allows the company access to EU traffic rights across the world which are not available to airlines based in a non-EU country such as Norway.

The letter reads:

"The proposed new routes from Cork are part of our wider plans for continued expansion in Ireland. There is no 'flag of convenience' here as is wrongly suggested.

"Capt Cullen also chooses to ignore the significant support NAI has received on both sides of the Atlantic. Three former US Secretaries of Transportation have urged approval of NAI’s application which has also received widespread support from the EU, the Irish Government, airports and major airlines, as well as huge public support.

"The fact remains that Norwegian Air International meets all requirements under the EU-US Open Skies Agreement and the US Department of Transportation have already stated that NAI 'appears to meet the DOT’s normal standards for award of a permit and that there appears to be no legal basis to deny NAI’s application'.

"We are confident the Department of Transportation will approve Norwegian Air International’s application and we hope they will do so shortly."

EU Transport Commissioner, Violeta Bulc, warned her Washington counterpart Anthony Foxx last month that the delay in issuing NAI with a permit could have wider implications for the proposed EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

During his campaign to become the Democratic nominee for the next US presidency, Bernie Sanders wrote to the US Department of Transportation claiming that granting the licence would violate labour rules, and that it would set a "dangerous precedent" that threatened thousands of jobs on both sides of the Atlantic.

A spokesman for the airline responded to those May accusation at the time:

"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 recognised EU airline, with a Dublin headquarters, more than 35 aircraft registered in Ireland and a series of new routes from Ireland planned."