New York-based low-cost carrier, JetBlue Airways, the fifth largest airline in the US, wrote to US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx last week, saying that “an unfavorable light” is being cast on the US commitment to the rule of law and the Open Skies agreement by the US authorities’ delay in making a final decision on Norwegian Air International’s (NAI) application to launch flights from Cork to Boston.
In a letter to Mr Foxx, submitted to the US Department of Transportation (DoT) process which is still seeking comments on NAI’s application, JetBlue executive James Hnat expressed concern that the continued delay could have negative repercussions for US airlines seeking to expand their route networks under the terms of the EU-US Open Skies agreement.
Mr Hnat hinted that JetBlue might want to launch transatlantic services from the US to Europe, but said the dispute between the EU and the US over the NAI application could jeopardise any such plans.
Dublin-based NAI, a subsidiary of low-cost giant, Norwegian, lodged its foreign air carrier permit application with the US authorities more than 30 months ago. It hoped to launch a Cork to Boston service before the end of this year, and a Cork to New York service next year.
However, the low-cost carrier’s plans have been consistently opposed by a coalition of trade union groups, supported by some US congressmen, and by large airlines, including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Lufthansa, SAS and United Airlines.
The Air Line Pilots Association International (ALPA) has accused Norwegian of setting up an Irish subsidiary to operate under a flag of convenience, in an effort to skirt labour rules and pay lower wages. Norwegian has consistently rejected the claims.
US president Barack Obama told Taoiseach Enda Kenny last March that there was no legal impediment to the granting of a permit to NAI. And following a lengthy and detailed examination of NAI’s application, the US DoT finally gave tentative approval to the licence in April, stating that there was “no legal basis to deny”.
But six months on, and NAI is still awaiting a final decision. EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc has launched a formal process of arbitration in a bid to end the deadlock.
In its letter to Mr Foxx, JetBlue executive Hnat said: “ We consider this nearly three-year delay concerning for all carriers seeking market access and due process.
“The stated intention of the European Union to pursue formal arbitration of this dispute shines an unfavorable light on our country’s commitment to the rule of law and to Open Skies agreements — commitments JetBlue has relied heavily upon for our international growth.”
He said as an airline that may at some stage seek EU approval of new transatlantic services he is concerned “JetBlue might face similar treatment and delays”. .
Aviation experts have said JetBlue is due to take delivery of new longer-range aircraft in 2019 and may eye transatlantic expansion around then.
Despite the record delays on its foreign carrier permit, NAI said it remains committed to launching transatlantic services from Cork.