Arbitrator appointed on Cork to US flights deadlock

An Italian professor — an expert in international law — is set to arbitrate for the EU in the transatlantic dispute over stalled plans to operate cheap flights from Ireland to the US.

Prof Giorgio Sacerdoti, who has worked on behalf of the World Bank and World Trade Organisation on the settlement of international disputes, was announced yesterday as the EU arbitrator in the case between the US and the EU over the unprecedented delay in Norwegian Air International’s (NAI) foreign carrier permit application.

Ireland South MEP Deirdre Clune welcomed the news last night, describing Mr Sacerdoti as a “suitably qualified candidate”.

“He has served eight years in the appellate body of the World Trade Organisation,” she said.

“I have also written to US transport secretary Anthony Foxx to ask that he approves the licence before the end of his tenure on January 20.”

NAI, an Irish subsidiary of low-fares giant Norwegian, applied to the US authorities almost three years ago for a permit to operate flights from Ireland to the US, including Cork-Boston and Cork-New York routes.

Its application is facing stiff opposition from various US and EU labour unions and airlines which have claimed the airline is operating a flag of convenience to skirt strict labour laws — a claim the airline has repeatedly rejected.

The US department of transportation granted tentative approval for the permit in April, but a final decision is still awaited. It is now the longest pending permit application of its kind.

NAI and EU political leaders insist NAI’s application complies with the terms of the EU-US Open Skies deal, and that the US refusal to sanction the permit is in direct contravention of the 2007 deal.

The EU transport commissioner, Violeta Bulc, signalled in July that she would take the unprecedented step of triggering arbitration in the case in a bid to break the impasse.

Under arbitration, the EU and US will each name an arbitrator, while a third arbitrator will be appointed by their mutual consent.

If the US is found to have breached the Open Skies agreement, the EU could suspend US airlines’ benefits under the 2007 agreement.

Ms Clune repeated her calls for NAI’s licence to be granted without delay.

“It has been largely held up due to political interference and pressure from unions on the US side,” she said. “We cannot allow this situation to drag on indefinitely.

“I am concerned about what consequences this matter could have, not only for relations in aviation but for overall transatlantic relations.

“It is of the utmost importance that agreements like Open Skies are upheld and this impasse sets a bad example at a time when bilateral ties may be strained and questioned by many sectors of our societies.”

She said NAI’s proposed services from Cork and Shannon offer enormous potential for the entire country, in terms of improving connectivity, boosting investment, and attracting more tourists.

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