| ATLANTA, March 13
ATLANTA, March 13 Budget air carrier Norwegian
Air hopes to soon get U.S. government approval to
operate more lower-cost flights to Europe despite opposition
from U.S. and European unions, its chief executive said on
The carrier is looking to increase flights between the
United States and Europe with a new unit based in Ireland. The
subsidiary, Norwegian Air International, was certified as an air
carrier by the Irish government last month and still requires
approval as a foreign air carrier from the U.S. Department of
The U.S. clearance is the remaining hurdle Norwegian faces
to operating the flights, which would be governed by an
open-skies agreement between the United States and the European
The carrier already operates flights to Europe from U.S.
cities such as New York and Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The
flights Norwegian plans to operate under its new unit include
service between New York and London's Gatwick airport.
"We don't expect that the United States will treat Norwegian
differently," Chief Executive Bjorn Kjos said in a telephone
interview with Reuters.
An official with the U.S. Department of Transportation said
in an emailed response that Norwegian's application was being
considered, but gave few further details.
"We are in the midst of a contested proceeding and we are
not in a position to address timing issues at this time," the
U.S. unions have criticized Norwegian's plan, saying the
carrier is looking to operate these longer-haul flights as an
Irish airline in a bid to sidestep Norway's more stringent
employment laws. U.S. airlines have also expressed concern about
The Air Line Pilots Association, European Cockpit
Association and AFL-CIO unions have urged the United States to
deny Norwegian's application.
Lee Moak, president of the Air Line Pilots Association,
which represents nearly 50,000 pilots in the United States and
Canada, told an aviation gathering in Washington this week that
Norwegian's Irish unit was created to allow the company to
reduce labor standards for workers.
By doing so, the airline was able to gain an unfair
advantage over European and U.S. carriers in attracting
passengers flying to and from the United States, Moak said.
This week, 38 U.S. senators sent a letter urging the
transportation agency to make sure the Norwegian arrangement
does not undermine a provision of the open-skies pact that
suggests new flight opportunities spurred by the agreement
should uphold high labor standards.
"We support competition and increased consumer choice, but
not by unfairly disadvantaging U.S. airlines or threatening U.S.
jobs," the March 12 letter from the senators states.
Kjos said the unions that oppose his carrier's plans were
merely looking out for their own interests.
"They are just trying to stop competition because they hate
to see that people are able to get low fares across the
Atlantic," he said. "The fares are way too high across the
Kjos said he felt Norwegian was operating within parameters
of the open-skies agreement between the EU and United States in
setting up its long-haul operations.
He said he welcomed plans by any other low-fare carriers
that might also want to add flights between the United States
and Europe. "We should always have as much competition as
possible," Kjos said.