Paper War

It could be interesting to calculate how many trees were felled for the paper for all the filings in the U.S. Transportation Department’s dockets for or against Norwegian Air International’s (NAI) application to fly to the U.S. When I wrote about it last week for Aviation Daily and AviationWeek.com -- DOT Docket Inundated With Comments For, Against NAI Application, I said the DOT had been “inundated.” It’s only gotten worse since then, with groups that run the gamut from San Mateo County to the American Society of Travel Agents to the more expected airlines and labor groups.

DOT has been sitting on NAI’s application to serve the U.S. for months — an unprecedented period of time for an application from a European airline. The department is keeping quiet about why, saying only that the application is “controversial.” DOT did call a meeting with its counterparts in the EU last month, and it is the notice of that meeting that has prompted the latest flurry of paper in the docket.

At issue, and you can read about it in my story linked above, is where NAI is domiciled. The Oslo-based company is setting up a subsidiary in Ireland, which will operate to the U.S. and elsewhere on an Irish air operator certificate.  This, supporters say, is precisely the kind of model the U.S.-EU open skies agreement was meant to facilitate. Opponents say that the model is designed to skirt Norway’s strict labor laws — and therefore is in violation of the open-skies deal’s Article 17 bis. Further, they say it’s the thin edge of the wedge for creating “flags of convenience” in the airline industry, similar to that which destroyed the U.S. maritime industry in the 1960s.

But it appears both sides think enough paper has been filed. Both NAI and a coalition of unions are asking for the DOT to make a decision. Of course, NAI thinks the DOT should approve its application, but the unions are equally confident the DOT will deny it.

No one knows for sure when the DOT will rule. Watch this space.

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