Obama urged to block licence granting Cork-US flights

President Barack Obama has been asked to block the granting of a licence for the first Cork-US flights.

Four Congressmen are already trying to introduce legislation to block the permit.

Now, 32 US Congressmen have now written to Mr Obama urging his administration to reconsider the US Department of Transportation’s (DoT) tentative decision to grant a foreign carrier permit to Irish-based airline, Norwegian Air International (NAI).

The airline, a subsidiary of low-fares giant Norwegian, wants to launch a Cork to Boston service this year, with a link to Barcelona, and a Cork to New York service next year.

NAI received technical certification to operate certain aircraft on its proposed transatlantic routes from Cork earlier this week.

But it can’t start selling tickets for the proposed Boston flights until the foreign carrier permit is signed off.

The letter from Congressmen comes days after the deadline passed for submissions to the US DoT on its tentative decision announced in April to grant the licence to NAI. The DoT is expected to provide answers to the various submissions by next week.

The timeline on a final decision date remains unclear.

In their letter to Mr Obama, the Congressmen said the landmark US-EU Open Skies Agreement has resulted in substantial benefits. “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,” they said.

“The benefits come as a result, in part, of provisions designed to ensure our aviation labour forces continue to enjoy strong employment protections.”

The Congressmen said the opportunities created by Open Skies are not intended to undermine labour standards or the labour-related rights and principles contained in EU or US laws.

They pointed out that NAI is a Norwegian-owned company which has applied to operate in the US as an Ireland-based, foreign air carrier. “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 claimed.

“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.”

They said they support fair competition but warn the US aviation industry is critical to the economy and an important middle-class job creator.

“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.

“Approving NAI’s foreign air carrier permit application would upset this careful balance and seriously harm the US aviation industry.”

NAI has consistently rejected the foreign workers’ contracts claim and pointed out that the DoT subjected its licence application to a rigorous assessment over two years and found it complies with Open Skies.

Mr Obama also told Taoiseach Enda Kenny in March there is no legal impediment to the granting of the licence.

The European Commission is poised to trigger arbitration if the licence is denied — a process which could take up to six months.

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