May 052016
 
A Norwegian Air 737 coming in to land in Barcelona

A Norwegian Air 737 coming in to land in Barcelona

Norwegian Air Shuttle is the third largest low-cost airline in Europe and flies to over 100 cities, mainly within western Europe.  It also operates a few flights between the US and Europe, with a fleet of 10 nearly new 787s supporting the airline’s long-haul services with 30 more on order.

It also has 101 Boeing 737s in service on its short-haul European routes, and has 229 additional single-aisle jets also on order.

The airline has been very well received, winning many different awards for the quality of its service, including, in 2015, major awards for

  • Best low cost airline in Europe (airlineratings.com) – this was again awarded in 2016
  • Best in Region Europe (Apex Passenger Choice Awards)
  • Europe’s Leading Low-Cost Airline (World Travel Awards)
  • The World’s Best Low-Cost Long Haul Airline (Skytrax)

and many other slightly less notable awards too.

In 2013, Norwegian Air Shuttle applied to the US Department of Transportation to start operating low cost flights between Ireland and the US.  The airline had incorporated a new subsidiary of its Norwegian parent company in Ireland so as to take advantage of the US-EU Open Skies Agreement – Norwegian Air International.

The thought of new low-cost service being offered on the profitable US-Europe routes, and by the world’s best low-cost long haul airline, naturally gave our tired old US carriers, none of which are in any danger of winning similar ‘world’s best’ awards, apoplectic fits, and for two and a half years they’ve successfully mounted a delaying campaign to interfere with the approval that Norwegian’s application surely qualifies for.  During these same two years, our US carriers have continued to push up their fees and the ‘fine print gotcha’ elements of their tickets, while doing little or nothing to improve their service, and at the same time enjoying record profits, higher than ever before in the history of commercial aviation.

Finally, after an extraordinary period of delay, on 15 April, the DoT issued a formal notice of its intent to grant the request from Norwegian to allow it to start operations from Ireland.  Their extended review included seeking opinions from both the Departments of Justice and State to confirm that Norwegian’s application and Irish corporate structure were fully in compliance with the Open Skies treaty between the US and EU (this being one of the prime objections the US carriers raised), and received agreement from the other two departments that everything was fully in accord with the treaty requirements and that the application should be granted.

Unsurprisingly, as soon as the notice was issued, the US airlines and related labor unions objected and appealed the decision, and also speciously asked for added time to prepare responses, while simultaneously seeking to deny anything more than 24 hours for supporters to then rebut the new points likely to be raised in the appeals submitted.

The airlines and labor groups are also using all their enormous lobbying power to pressure members of Congress, many of whom have shamelessly caved in to the pressure and written letters to the DoT urging the DoT to not grant the operating authority to Norwegian, and have also mounted a public campaign, getting their members and other naieve people to send in one liner notes registering their wish for the approval not to be issued.  Thousands of such submissions have now been received by the DoT.

You can see the current state of submissions here

You might wish to send your own thoughts in, and noting how one liner comments seem to be common, it would be helpful even if you sent in a one line comment urging the DoT to issue the approval to Norwegian Air International.  Simply click any of the blue ‘Comment Now’ buttons to the right of present comment to allow you to send in your own comments, too.

If you did so, the important elements of your comment are

  • That you support granting Norwegian Air International permission to operate flights between the US and Ireland (and beyond)
  • One or two reasons why you support the granting of this permission (no need to list all of them below)
  • Any information about you if relevant (you are a very frequent flier, you are in the aviation or tourism industry, or whatever else)

Reasons for supporting the granting of this permission might include things such as

  • Norwegian Air is widely recognized for the standard of its service and seems likely to offer an improved level of travel experience
  • Low cost airlines, via the widely recognized ‘Southwest Effect’, grow the market, encouraging more people to fly
  • The US carriers could compete if they wished, but they have willfully chosen to optimize profits at the cost of customer service and passenger experiences
  • The US carriers are being hypocritical at worrying about Norwegian Air draining jobs from the US when they themselves outsource away from their unions and offshore away from the US as much work as possible (such as call centers and maintenance work) and also employ foreign nationals on their international routes
  • Routes across the Atlantic have collapsed into a non-competitive unfriendly to passengers scenario with only three airline groups controlling over 80% of all seats and flights – encouraging competition is a core American value and its benefits are universally recognized and accepted
  • Norwegian Air has said it will employ a mix of Americans and other nationalities on its planes, diluting the net effect of any jobs that theoretically might be at risk by their presence and future growth, and additional employment caused by extra jobs created by Norwegian at airports and in tourist operators at the American destinations where it will be bringing European tourists are likely to massively more than offset the few jobs possibly lost
  • A broad spectrum of support has already been received by Norwegian Air’s application including even other passenger airlines and air cargo airlines, regional tourism bodies and other tourism-related industries, travel companies and travel agencies, and true unaffiliated private citizens rather than union members and the US ‘big three’ airline employees; it is only the airlines and the related labor unions that are objecting

What follows is the submission I sent in, urging the DoT to manfully stick to their guns, and issue the approval that is so clearly indicated.  Some of it does require an understanding of the matters to date, but most of it is self explanatory.  There is no need for you to write in such length or detail.  As you can see from the other submissions, most submissions from regular people are short.

Here also are some helpful suggestions from the Regulations.gov website about how to write a submission.

Docket DOT-OST-2013-0204

My name is David McDonald Rowell.  I’m a naturalized US citizen, resident in the Seattle area for 31 years, and have been involved in the transportation, tourism and aviation fields for 27 of those years.

I have been publishing a newsletter, blog, website and curated news aggregation service, ‘The Travel Insider’, since 2001.  This focuses on travel and travel related technology.  Prior to that, I founded and for 11 years grew a travel company that become one of the largest wholesalers of travel to the South Pacific, with offices variously in the US, Australia and New Zealand (and for a while, in Russia too.)  I have been featured on local, national and international radio and television shows and in the domestic and foreign press and magazines.

I am submitting a request for the DoT to proceed to grant the approvals, licenses, permits and exemptions requested by Norwegian Air International (NAI) to allow them to commence operations between the US and Ireland and in general as they may wish.  I am writing on behalf of myself and my understanding of the general wishes of my readers, and I have received no compensation of any kind in return for this submission, nor any assistance in its drafting.

We Need to Restore the Airline Competition We’ve Lost

The governing Open Skies Agreement that serves as a basis for much of your deliberation and decision has at its heart a recognition that the interests of everyone are best served by welcoming and encouraging healthy competition.  Indeed, this is such a truism as to need no further support or restatement.  Offset against this recognized benefit is the steady reductions in competition and choices being offered to the American public by US airlines, most poignantly illustrated by how the reply by the US carriers now is signed by only three remaining airlines with appreciable interests in the Atlantic route – generally considered to be the busiest long-haul route in the world.  While the number of Americans flying each year has been increasing, the number of competing airlines has been reducing.

The outcome of the extraordinary consolidation of US carriers is clear.  While each of their requests for approval when buying each other out, merging together, or forming joint operating agreements or alliances or code shares have always been framed in terms of supposed consumer benefits – more flight choices, more competition (more competition by fewer carriers?), better services and convenience, and lower fares – the reality is utterly and starkly the opposite.

The reality is shown by the skyrocketing growth in fees that are extortionate rather than fair reflections of underlying costs (it can cost more to transport a bag than the ticket cost for the person transporting the bag these days, and the bag gets neither frequent flier miles nor a free soft drink); by the ever higher passenger loadings on flights, way past the point where a decade or two ago, airlines would have chosen to add more flights; and by the just announced totality of net earnings by the US carriers – the highest ever, and such unusually high profits, while attributed primarily to lower fuel costs, clearly show that the airlines are feeling no pricing pressure whatsoever.

Not only are the US carriers feeling no pricing pressure, they’re also ignoring the calls for improved service standards.  A recent article (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/05/01/forget-futuristic-green-jets-you-could-be-flying-old-gas-guzzlers-for-years-to-come.html) points out that ten of the eleven new routes across the Atlantic being inaugurated by US carriers this summer will be operated by old, and sometimes very old, 757 and 767 airplanes.  If American passengers wish modern planes and modern standards of service and convenience, they are being forced away from US carriers.  By contrast, NAI’s fleet of longhaul planes consists exclusively of nearly brand new 787s.

The Open Skies Agreement, basic economic theory, and common sense all call out for increased competition.

The Empty Arguments of the Three US Carriers

Arguing against your proposed granting of permission is the joint reply of the three US carriers, full of the same tired old canards they’ve always resorted to.  Vague statements about safety being potentially compromised are nothing other than ridiculous and empty statements notable for their lack of specifics (because there is nothing specific they can point to) but intended to terrify the DoT into submission.

What is factual however is the happy truth that airline travel has never been safer than it is today – all the ‘sky is falling’ prognostications are being rebutted every day, everywhere in the world, with European and US airlines (and those of most other countries too) operating perfectly safely.

It also seems that Norwegian Air Shuttle, the third largest low-cost airline in Europe, has a flawless safety record.

It is also relevant to keep in mind that Europe’s largest airline (RyanAir) is headquartered in Ireland.  To obliquely hint that basing an airline in Ireland implies less official scrutiny or standards of the airline’s operations, no matter the corporate form of the entity that operates the planes, is to erect another shadowy shapeless monster with no real substance.

This fact also taints the testimony of Captain Colman and his own similar stated concerns, and his even more risible assertions of a ‘fear culture working environment’.  I have received volunteered emails from my readers uniformly praising the NAI people they have met and interacted with while booking flights and traveling on their planes, with all staff being described as cheerful, happy, friendly, and clearly loving their work.

Back to the US airlines, let’s also be very clear about the reality of their concerns about US jobs.  Which of the three airlines doesn’t off-shore as much of their labor as possible?  Which of them don’t have overseas low-cost call centers?  Which of them don’t have foreign flight attendants on some international routes?  Which of them don’t use third party maintenance services rather than employing their own US union labor to conduct airplane maintenance?  For that matter, they all think nothing of buying airplanes from Airbus rather than Boeing.

I’m not arguing against any of those practices.  I’m merely pointing out how specious and thin their pretense is about being concerned about people’s jobs.  They have shown no concern about people’s jobs to date, consistently putting profit before people.  Some would say that is right and proper, that it is a company’s primary goal to reward its shareholders, not its employees.  The answer to that question is well beyond the purview of this submission, or the docket in general, but until such time as the carriers can point to their own labor practices as being consummately US-focused, the selective mendacity of their claims at present needs to be recognized for what it is.

The Reality of Article 17 bis of the Agreement

First, we note that the validity of your proposed approval has already been analyzed and dispassionately determined by yourselves, and then has been subsequently reviewed and upheld by both the Departments of Justice and State.  This is an already decided matter that surely needs no further review.

But the US carriers desperately clutch at any straw they can find while attempting to halt the tide of international competition – what they claim to be ambiguities to do with Article 17 bis, and suggest that these ambiguities should be sufficient as to override the clear and totally unambiguous over-arching intent of the Open Skies Agreement.

Realists (and cynics) will appreciate that Article 17 bis was inserted into the Agreement to pay lip service to various pressure groups and to enable the Agreement to be accepted and ratified by all parties, and the language was deliberately made vague rather than specific so as to be nothing other than window-dressing.  If a clearer mandate, rather than discretionary guidance was desired, it would have been written that way.

In fact, there is no ambiguity about Article 17 bis at all.  It is clearly nothing more than an empty declaration and deliberately written absent any specific substance, and with the strongest part of the two paragraphs referring to merely ‘guiding’ the parties, and development of ‘appropriate responses to concerns found to be legitimate’.  Nowhere does it countenance prohibiting a carrier’s operation.

If there is any substance to Article 17 bis, it clearly imposes two obligations on anyone invoking it.  Firstly, to prove that a concern is a legitimate concern, and secondly to prove that the requested response is appropriate.  The airlines have failed on both these points.

Norwegian Air International is a ‘Good’ Carrier that Promises Benefits for All

Apart from uttering canards about NAI’s internal labor relations and expressing baseless concerns about its possible safety standards and the ability of authorities anywhere to enforce applicable safety standards, the petitioners opposing NAI overlook some important positive points.

By every apparent disinterested standard, NAI is an excellent airline, offering excellent passenger experiences on nearly new planes and at better values than our US ‘Big Three’.  Here’s an incomplete listing of awards the airline has won in just the last couple of years (taken from their Wikipedia entry) :

  • 2016 Grand Travel Awards Norway: Best European Airline
  • 2016 Grand Travel Awards Norway: Best domestic airline in Norway
  • 2016 Grand Travel Awards Norway: CEO of the year: Bjørn Kjos of Norwegian
  • 2016 Norwegian awarded best low cost airline in Europe by Airlineratings.com
  • 2015 Norwegian named the most environmentally friendly transatlantic airline by International Council on Clean Transportation
  • 2015 Best in Region: Europe – Awarded by Apex Passenger Choice Awards
  • 2015 Best Inflight Publication – Awarded by Apex Passenger Choice Awards
  • 2015 Europe’s Leading Low-Cost Airline 2015 awarded by World Travel Awards
  • 2015 Norwegian’s onboard magazine “N Magazine” won the award for “Customer Magazine of the Year” . Awarded by Professional Publishers Association
  • 2015 World’s best Low-Cost Long Haul Airline by Skytrax World Airline Awards
  • 2015 Best lowcost airline in Europe for 2015 – Awarded by Airlineratings.com
  • 2014 Best in Region: Europe – Awarded by Apex Passenger Choice Awards
  • 2014 Best in Inflight Connectivity & Communications – Awarded by Apex Passenger Choice Awards
  • 2014 Best Single Achievement in Passenger Experience for its moving map on the 787 Dreamliners – Awarded by Apex Passenger Choice Awards
  • 2014 Europe’s best low-cost carrier of the year awarded by Skytrax World Airline Awards
  • 2014 Named Biggest “‘new’ airline in the US market” by 4th US ANNIEs – Airline Awards of Anna.aero
  • 2014 Voted “Best Low-Cost Airline of the World” by the 2014 Air Transport News Awards

We wryly note that, while once the standard bearers for excellence and innovation the world over, these days the US airlines seldom if ever appear in such lists of awards.

The US airlines are right to fear the competitive pressures that NAI will bring to bear, but the DoT’s mission isn’t to support poor quality air service, but rather to see the safe and fair development of improved air service to the American people.  Clearly, Norwegian Air International promises much to us as fliers, and if this causes the US airlines to lift their game in response, that’s a double win to be desired, not something to be inhibited.

The Broad Swath of Public Opinion Supports This Approval

This docket has received an impressive number of submissions of almost identical form by individuals who don’t explain their interest, or rationalize their strongly stated objection to approval being granted.  Again, a realist or cynic understands these people to be writing at the behest of pressure groups and clearly not having any particular individual opinion or commitment other than of copying and pasting a form note and sending it on, a two second/two mouse click action on their part.  This is not intended to suggest the DoT ignore such submissions, but merely to request that in making its ruling, it gives careful weight not just to the number of submissions for and against the action, but also the substantive nature of each submission received.

I urge the Department to see beyond these undisguised attempts to sway your proposed ruling with nothing more than apparent public pressure, and to see them as they are – an orchestrated letter writing campaign by the individual members of the unions and airlines who have already submitted proposals on behalf of the members now writing in a second time, individually.

The reality is quite different.  My sense of my readers, some of whom occasionally write to me about their experiences with Norwegian Air Shuttle (as their international operations to the US currently are) and with other airlines in general, is that there is overwhelming support for new service by a new high quality high value operator.

As I said at the beginning, I have ‘no dog in this fight’ other than a personal interest in wishing access to better service, more flights, and lower fares.  Every word of the US airlines opposition clearly contains the acceptance and implication that all three of these attributes will flow from your decision to grant NAI the approvals it needs.  That’s good enough for me, and I hope, good enough for you too.

Please grant Norwegian Air International the necessary approvals, accordingly.

Respectfully

David M Rowell.

  6 Responses to “Send the DoT a Submission in Support of Granting Approval to Norwegian Air International”

  1. By all means do so, Norwegian Air International is/would be a welcome addition to airlines available in the USA.

  2. The DOT must support the US-EU Open Skies Agreement and allow Norwegian Air International to provide service to the US. US airlines already have an a huge monopoly in the US especially in certain markets. Every other industry must survive in a competitive market. Why should the US airlines be given special treatment. You must act on behalf of the traveling public and restore the competition that’s been lost. I urge the DOT to grant Norwegian Air International approval to commence operations between the US and Ireland.

  3. Keep the competition going…

  4. I absolutely agree!!!!! Air fares are ridiculously high and the bag fees did not disappear now that the fuel cost is low…

  5. As owner of Deluxe Travel Ltd in Reno, Nevada, I hereby request that you give the appropriate approvals for Norwegian Air to fly to the United States. We need more competition in the market place and NOT be controlled by the three alliances.

  6. […] conceding there was no way they could refuse the application, it has now been granted.  I wrote in support of the airline during the call for public submissions in the last round of DoT […]

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