Airline’s wage pledge on Cork-US route

The airline fighting US authorities for the right to start low-cost flights between Cork and the US gave written assurances over a year ago that it would not hire any crew members on the cheap from low-wage countries in Asia.

Norwegian Air International (NAI) is facing accusations it will drive down wages and working conditions on transatlantic routes if it is allowed fly between Cork and Boston.

In a letter to the US department of transportation in June last year, however, the company’s chief executive Bjorn Kjos, stated: “NAI is now in a position to commit to use only European and US pilots and crews on NAI transatlantic flights.”

An exception would be made only “if compelled by extraordinary and unforeseen operational reasons”.

He referred to the commitment in a letter sent this week to European transport commissioner Violeta Bulc, who has decided to refer the dispute for international arbitration.

He addressed claims by US congressman Peter DeFazio, who has led the campaign to block NAI’s plans. He said Mr DeFazio’s assertion that other airlines in the Norwegian Group used Bangkok-based crew for transatlantic flights out of other European countries was “false”.

He said the Bangkok-based crew were used on flights between Asia and Europe and to use them on transatlantic routes would be “folly”.

“Were Norwegian to base crew members operating transatlantic operations in Asia, we would have to fly them half-way round the globe (blocking revenue generating seats), pay salary, hotel and per diem expenses and allow them to complete mandatory rest periods, all before they could even commence their active duty.”

It was previously disclosed Mr DeFazio received campaign funds of $140,000 from members of the US Airline Pilots Association since 1989, but Mr Kjos advised Ms Bulc further disclosures revealed funding from associated unions, bringing the total figure from within the airline sector to $882,000.

Mr DeFazio has claimed that, by registering in Ireland rather than the US, NAI wants to circumvent stricter US labour laws. The US department of transportation provisionally approved NAI’s licence to fly into Boston in April, subject to an open-ended appeals’ process. NAI welcomed the European Commission’s move to seek arbitration but it too has no deadline.

Niall MacCarthy, managing director of Cork Airport, called for the immediate granting of the licence to NAI. “We hope for a timely conclusion of the arbitration process but it should have been unnecessary,” he said.

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