The Democratic presidential hopeful called on the incumbent Barack Obama to refuse a licence to Dublin-based low-cost carrier Norwegian Air International (NAI) to operate transatlantic flights from Ireland under the terms of the EU-US Open Skies Agreement.
This is despite her welcoming the Open Skies Agreement in 2011 when, as secretary of state, she said restrictive inter-government deals before the landmark agreement had stifled competition. “They kept airlines from entering certain markets. They forced shipping companies to fly inefficient routes with half-empty airplanes. And, by stifling competition, they kept air fares artificially high,” she had said.
However, over the weekend, Ms Clinton added her voice to the mounting movement against NAI’s plans to operate a Cork to Boston service this year, and a Cork to New York service next year, citing concerns about NAI’s “practices and plans”.
“Hillary Clinton urges the Obama administration against moving forward with final approval of Norwegian Air International’s application,” Hillary for America labour campaign director Nikki Budzinski said in a statement.
“Too many questions have been raised about NAI’s practices and plans.”
Her intervention has been viewed as a significant setback in the Irish and EU campaign to secure the new service from Cork Airport.
The US Department of Transportation (DoT) tentatively approved NAI’s licence application last month, triggering a consultation process which concluded last week. It was hoped a final decision on the licence would be made in a matter of weeks.
Concerns are mounting that the increased political opposition to NAI could delay the decision, and threaten the already postponed launch of the Cork to Boston service.
Ms Clinton’s intervention came just weeks after her rival for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, Bernie Sanders, also called for NAI’s licence application to be refused.
“Norwegian Air International’s attempt to undermine international labour laws by outsourcing cheap labour from Thailand and other low-wage countries is unacceptable,” said Mr Sanders.
“We must do everything we can to prevent a global race to the bottom in the airline industry.”
Mr Sanders was echoing critics of NAI who have repeatedly accused the Irish-based airline of operating under a flag of convenience in an attempt to skirt more stringent Norwegian labour and tax laws.
NAI’s opponents have claimed the airline will undermine competition by hiring pilots contracted through Asia, where labour costs are lower.
The airline has repeatedly denied the claims and said it has given written guarantees to the US DoT that it will only hire US and EU staff.
It has also pointed out the DoT has found it to be fully compliant with the terms and conditions of the Open Skies Agreement.
“Norwegian is confident the DoT will approve NAI’s application,” said a spokesman. “Approval of NAI will result in more US aviation sector jobs, enable Norwegian to expand its already large pool of American crew, and deliver much-needed competition and affordable fares to consumers on both sides of the Atlantic.”