Cork Airport director Niall MacCarthy accused Mr Sanders of “trotting out the same old arguments” which have already been found by US authorities to be invalid.
“He is not taking into account the findings of the US department of transportation (DoT) which has found there is no legal basis to refuse a foreign carrier permit to Norwegian Air International (NAI) to operate these flights,” said Mr MacCarthy.
“His views are grounded in protectionism and would restrict consumer choice. Low-cost operators evolve and grow markets.”
Mr MacCarthy was reacting after Mr Sanders rowed into the DoT’s submissions process ahead of Monday’s deadline, following its tentative decision in April to grant a permit to NAI to operate the first transatlantic flights from Cork.
NAI, the Irish subsidiary of low-fares giant Norwegian, plans to launch a Cork-Boston service this year and a Cork-New York service next year.
Mr Sanders said granting a permit to NAI would be a “direct violation of the strong labour provisions included in the US-EU Open Skies agreement”.
“Moreover, it would set a dangerous precedent that threatens the jobs of hundreds of thousands of flight attendants, mechanics, pilots, and other airline workers in our country and in Europe.”
Ireland South MEP Deirdre Clune rejected his claims: “What Bernie Sanders is advocating here is anti-competitive and bad for air passengers.
“We cannot continue to protect certain airlines from competition. Doing so will ensure that we continue to see higher airfares on transatlantic routes with less choice and less competition.”
The Irish Congress of Trade Union echoed Mr Sanders’ concerns. General secretary Patricia King said NAI’s plans appear to be driven largely by a desire to drive down pay and standards in the aviation sector.
She said the proposed Cork-US routes are “likely to do more harm than good as it will undermine quality jobs and standards in the sector and will not create a single new job in Ireland, the European Union, or the United States”.
Norwegian hit back at the latest criticism last night and pointed out that it has already been granted tentative approval for the permit, having given written assurances to the US authorities about staff, contract terms, and conditions.
“Opponents have raised false allegations that NAI uses low-paid Asian crew,” said a spokesman.
“In fact, NAI does not have a single Asian-based crewmember or pilot, and Norwegian has continuously publicly stated — and committed in writing to the US DoT — that US and EU-based crew will be used on NAI transatlantic services.
“Opponents have suggested that Norwegian is offering substandard working conditions and that the NAI operation is an attempt to circumvent the labour laws of Norway and the US. The fact is that Norwegian always follows the rules and regulations in all the markets in which it operates and offers employees competitive wages and conditions.
“The hundreds of Norwegian employees in the US are governed by US labour laws and say that their wages and benefits are on par with their counterparts at US airlines,” said the spokesman, adding: “Put simply, regardless of which part of Norwegian they work for, crew and pilots follow the labour laws in the country in which they are based.”
The spokesman hit back at claims Norwegian is using Ireland to operate a flag of convenience model.
“In reality, NAI is headquartered in Dublin with 80 employees, 37 aircraft registered in Ireland, and already operates flights to and from Ireland, with many more routes planned.”
Cork Chamber is co-ordinating a lobbying campaign in support of the proposed routes ahead of a rally outside the White House tomorrow in support of proposed US laws which could block NAI’s permit.
Chamber chief executive Conor Healy said: “Mr Sanders is reiterating points which have been made by opponents of the service which have already been ruled as invalid. We will continue to highlight the facts and we are encouraging businesses both in Cork and the US to support the service.”