July 30, 2014

ALPA’s iron resolve to safeguard pilots’ jobs is uncompromising. We fight hard, and our union’s drive to win has never been more evident than in our bout with Norwegian Air International (NAI). We have been all in to deny NAI’s plan to avoid its national laws and undermine labor laws and U.S.-EU policy by employing a devastating, precedent-setting flag-of-convenience business model that would be harmful to North American airline workers.

True to form, our union immediately went into an all-out battle, acting on all fronts—informing our pilots of the threat, taking legal action, working internationally with our pilot allies and with foreign governments, advocating to lawmakers on Capitol Hill, voicing our concerns to the White House and the Cabinet offices, and launching an aggressive multi-tiered public relations campaign to reach every relevant audience with ALPA’s message of safeguarding U.S. airline industry jobs.

Even before Dec. 3, 2013, when NAI formally applied to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) for a foreign air carrier permit and an exemption for its proposed operations, ALPA foresaw the threat to U.S. jobs from the Norwegian Air Shuttle’s (NAS) plan to fly to the United States using its Irish subsidiary called NAI that would employ Asia-based flight crews.

Our union immediately called on the U.S. government to put Norwegian’s plan on the June 5, 2013, meeting agenda of the U.S.-EU Joint Committee, which consists of the parties to the U.S.-EU Air Transport Agreement, and is tasked with reviewing and implementing the agreement. During the meeting, the U.S. government asked the European Commission, Norway, and Ireland for information about NAS’s plan. They knew little about it.

Because the labor-shopping-based business model threatens the job of every U.S. pilot, the lack of knowledge about NAI’s plan drove ALPA’s heavy force strategy to shed light on NAS’s true intent in creating its subsidiary. Our union acted rapidly and with concentrated force to inform decision-makers about the risk to U.S. airline industry jobs, and to disabuse all concerned of any confusion about the intent and consequences of the NAI model.

We started with laying out the powerful legal case against NAI. On Dec. 17, 2013, ALPA filed an answer with DOT opposing NAI’s application for a foreign air carrier permit, asserting that the company’s business proposal is not in the public interest. We also argued that NAI’s business model is inconsistent with Article 17 bis of the U.S.-EU Air Transport Agreement, a provision that says that the opportunities created by the agreement are not to be used to undermine labor standards. A few days later, four U.S. airlines filed in support of ALPA’s opposition and on, Jan. 7, 2014, ALPA, the European Cockpit Association, and the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO filed a joint reply to NAI’s reply to ALPA’s answer.

At the same time, ALPA kept up the pressure on EU policymakers to uncover the facts about NAI. In December 2013, ALPA again asked the U.S.-EU Joint Committee to add the issue to the agenda for its Jan. 8, 2014, meeting. This time, while the United States and the EU had a government-only session to discuss the matter, the DOT placed a summary of the discussion in the NAI case docket (DOT-OST-2013-0204). That summary included more information about NAI’s business model and, on February 14, we filed comments on the summary that further demonstrated why the new information supported the conclusion that NAI’s application should be denied. On February 21, ALPA, the European Cockpit Association, and the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO filed joint comments in reply to comments filed by NAI. ALPA’s opposition was not only supported by U.S. airlines but also by European airlines and unions.

ALPA also helped drive awareness and amplified the broad opposition to NAI’s application. In early February, ALPA galvanized the international airline labor community in Oslo, Norway, at an assembly that drew representatives of more than 30 U.S. and European labor groups, which concluded with a widely covered news conference that drew many journalists from both U.S. and European news media. Among the groups airing strong opposition to NAI were the European Cockpit Association, the Norwegian Pilots Union, PARAT (the union representing Norwegian’s pilots and flight attendants), the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations, the Southwest Airlines Pilots’ Association, the Allied Pilots Association, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, and the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO. In April, I went to Ireland to meet directly with Irish aviation officials to express our concern and opposition to NAI, as well as to coordinate with our labor allies in Ireland who support our goal of denying NAI.

In addition, as the facts about NAI became clear, pronounced and public opposition also emerged from respected leaders from the U.S. government and Congress. On June 26, former Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood spoke out about “Unanswered Questions on Norwegian Air” in an opinion piece that ran in The Hill, and on July 7, Rep. Ted Poe (R-Tex.) called NAI’s proposal a “shell corporation” in his Daily Caller opinion piece titled “Don’t Skew the Marketplace Against U.S.-Based Airlines.” Former House Transportation and Infrastructure chairman, the late James Oberstar, a true friend of airline pilots, wrote asking the DOT secretary to deny NAI on April 28. Also, former U.S. Ambassador to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Duane Woerth has raised concerns about how safety oversight would be conducted under NAI’s proposal and IFALPA President Don Wykoff has written to ICAO expressing the concerns of international pilots.

The trend positive exposing the real story on NAI continued on Capitol Hill. In multiple sign-on letters and individual missives, more than 150 bipartisan members of Congress from states across the nation have communicated with U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and the White House to express concern that U.S. airlines will be put at a competitive disadvantage by NAI’s business model.

The broad bipartisan opposition to NAI translated into legislative action when the U.S. House passed an amendment by unanimous voice vote on June 9 to make certain that federal funds are not used to grant access to U.S. markets for foreign airlines that violate U.S. law or the U.S.-EU Air Transport Agreement. A similar bipartisan amendment is awaiting action in the Senate. The amendment’s success was due in part to ALPA’s many volunteer pilots and professional staff who saturated the halls of Congress with the facts about NAI and its business model’s potential repercussions for U.S. workers. NAI has vigorously opposed ALPA’s amendment, as they know that if the DOT is to follow the law, NAI will be denied, and Congress has now sent a very clear message to DOT that they are opposed to NAI’s application.

To further augment our opposition to NAI, in early May, ALPA launched “Save Our Skies,” an aggressive public relations campaign to help safeguard U.S. airline pilots’ jobs, with NAI’s plan falling at the top of the list of threats. Through advertisements in places such as The Washington Post, on D.C.-area radio stations, on key media sites in D.C. and in targeted congressional districts around the country, and on the public buses that transit the nation’s capital and in a subway station near the White House, ALPA attracted broad public attention and riveted it on NAI’s disingenuous plan. Watch a short video showcasing ALPA’s SOS campaign ads, narrated by our radio spot.

In addition to the ads, ALPA employed press conferences, news releases, and news media interviews to touch on every reason why NAI’s proposal should be rejected, from pointing out that NAI’s own DOT filings confirmed that it was created to evade Norway’s national laws and regulations and voicing ALPA’s safety oversight concerns, to reinforcing that the DOT is charged with encouraging fair wages and working conditions and ensuring that U.S. air carriers have a strong competitive position in the global marketplace.

ALPA’s many interviews produced prominent coverage in leading news outlets, including USA Today, which published a June 11 opinion piece in which I stated, “Congress has a responsibility to make sure that U.S. airlines do business in a fair marketplace and that the U.S. government’s transportation funds don’t hand an advantage to foreign airlines that try to cheat the system.” ALPA also drove home this message in an opinion piece titled “Norwegian Air International Can’t Fly Above the Law,” carried in the July 8 edition of Aviation Daily.

In all of our outreach, we have been clear that, far from fearful of a fight, ALPA welcomes fair competition in the U.S. airline industry. On May 9, our long-held position was reflected in a DOT filing that described the differences between Dreamjet’s garden-variety foreign air carrier application and NAI’s scheme to avoid Norwegian labor law.

That NAS’s CEO is a former maritime lawyer is no coincidence. He knows precisely how to exploit the system to create a flag-of-convenience business model—the same model that devastated the U.S. maritime industry. Whether it’s threatening to cancel an order for 20 Boeing Dreamliners––a bluff we called–––or suddenly opening flight attendant crew bases in New York and Fort Lauderdale in what seemed more of a PR stunt than a real commitment to U.S. jobs, it appears that NAS will say and do anything to obtain a foreign air carrier permit for its NAI subsidiary.

Thanks to ALPA’s information efforts, the facts about NAI have inspired more than 30,000 individuals to oppose it. Those efforts have also contributed to more than 150 members of Congress raising concern or calling for its outright rejection. Please take a moment to see if your elected representative has stood up for U.S. airline jobs and, if not, please participate in our Call to Action today and let them know your views.

NAI’s business model has been bombarded from all sides. While it’s clear that the NAI plan is under siege and that its management team is scrambling for positive spin, now is no time to let up on our commitment to final victory. For the sake of U.S. airline pilots’ jobs, now and in the future, we need iron resolve to deny NAI.


Capt. Lee Moak

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