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U.S. Pilots Ask Trump to Deny Norwegian Air’s Expansion

Pilots from Southwest and American Airlines are rallied at the White House today in the hopes of blocking Norwegian Air’s planned expansion in the U.S., reports the Dallas Business Journal.

The unions contend Norwegian will “hire less expensive Asian flight crews instead of Americans and will use an Irish subsidiary to circumvent labor and safety regulations.”

Chip Hancock, the governmental affairs chairman for the Southwest union, told The Dallas Morning News that “the unions were engaged in conversations with the Trump administration throughout the transition,” and were working to get the president’s attention on the matter.

The unions are clearly counting on Trump’s populist tendencies, and perhaps on his desire to sell himself as some kind of job-saving miracle worker.

“We are hearing that the message is getting through,” Hancock told the Morning News. “We feel like … if we can just get through the noise, that this issue is an easy win for the president and American workers that falls right in line with what he’s done so far.”

As we noted last week, the dispute over Norwegian’s service focuses on language from the Open Skies agreements the U.S. negotiates with other countries, which states that “opportunities created by the agreement are not intended to undermine labor standards.”

The argument against Norwegian is that setting up a subsidiary in Ireland allows the airline to do exactly that. Of course, Norwegian already serves the U.S. through its Norway-based subsidiary, and would not necessarily begin flying U.S. routes with the Ireland one. The DOT recently approved service via the Ireland subsidiary, but opponents are trying to get that decision overturned.

“We’re very encouraged by President Trump’s outreach to labor yesterday, and we look forward to him taking a look at this issue and the mantra he ran on of taking care of the American worker and American jobs,” said Mike Panebianco, vice president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots’ Association.

It’s not clear if, or how, this expansion would harm the American worker. In October, Norwegian said it would look to hire U.S. pilots and claimed it would be the first European airline to do so. The airline also says setting up a subsidiary in Ireland isn’t about cheating labor or tax laws, but simply granting access to far more destinations than one based in Norway, since Norway is’nt a member of the EU.

“There is no validity whatsoever to our opponents’ claims that Norwegian’s expansion will lead to fewer American jobs as the real facts show the complete opposite,” Norwegian Air spokesman Anders Lindstrom said in a statement. “In short, no other foreign airline invests more in the American economy or creates more American jobs than Norwegian.”

The Morning News added that “though the unions have insinuated that Norwegian Air will hire cheaper Asian flight crews instead of Americans, the company insists that it has no Asian-based crew members and does not intend to change that.”

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