A pilots’ union has accused the airline behind the planned Cork-Boston route of “using Cork as a pawn” in a battle over labour standards.
Captain Evan Cullen, president of the Irish Airline Pilots’ Association (IALPA), claimed Norwegian Air is not prevented from operating the route because of the US department of transport’s (USDOT) delay in approving a foreign carrier permit for its subsidiary, as the airline has claimed.
In a letter to the Irish Examiner and to a number of TDs in the Munster region, Capt Cullen said Norwegian “could already be flying from Cork to the US as it planned under the permits it already holds”, but that it instead wants to use its subsidiary, Norwegian Air International (NAI), to operate the route.
Capt Cullen said NAI hires its crew under individual Asian contracts, which are not permitted under US-EU air service agreements.
“Norwegian’s assertion that it cannot fly from Cork to the US is disingenuous and misleading. Airport management and politicians should be asking why Norwegian will not use its existing rights,” said Capt Cullen.
“At the USDOT, a transatlantic coalition of airlines and unions has argued that NAI’s application should not be approved because its conduct diminishes the high labour standards embodied in Article 17 bis of the US-EU air service agreement.
“Those who seek to advance aviation in Ireland and the standards attached to it should not condone nor be drawn into Norwegian’s gamesmanship in using Cork as a pawn in a transatlantic legal battle with the USDOT over Asian-contract flight crew.”
In a lengthy and strongly worded reply to TDs, seen by the Irish Examiner, Norwegian said Capt Cullen has “chosen to act as an errand boy for the coalition of airlines and unions, to which he refers to, that seek to limit competition on transatlantic services”.
Describing his position as “mistaken” and “downright hypocritical”, Norwegian said while he is correct to say the airline could operate the service using its existing permits, it is not an option from a “practical and operational perspective” because NAI has a headquarters in Ireland, while its parent company does not.
“We have always planned to operate the Cork-Boston route under NAI as this allows us to make best use of the existing Irish operations and Irish-registered aircraft that are already in place,” the airline stated.
“Securing a foreign carrier permit for our Irish operation would allow us to begin operating the Cork routes and to look at further future expansion in Ireland — the ongoing delays from the USDOT are not only preventing passengers from accessing new routes and low fares, it is also delaying the creation of hundreds of new jobs and significant economic benefits.
“NAI have already committed in writing to the USDOT to only use European and US crews on its transatlantic flights so IALPA’s concerns on this issue are unfounded.”
Capt Cullen said he had only seen the Norwegian letter yesterday, and that he would respond in due course. He questioned the claim that Norwegian’s director of flight operations, Godfrey Higgins, is a member of IALPA.
“It is a material fact that there is no one by the name of Godfrey Higgins on the IALPA membership list,” said Capt Cullen.
The airline yesterday insisted that Mr Higgins is a member of IALPA.
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