While management seems more focused on Gulf Carriers, airline unions have set their crosshairs on low-cost carriers like Norwegian. Why? Labor costs, specifically Norwegian practices to keep them low. But have United pilots taken it a step too far in demanding that the Trump Administration force Norwegian to hire only U.S. pilots?
Norwegian has formed a new UK-based subsidiary (the carrier already has an Irish one) and has aggressive expansion plans for the USA. That subsidiary just received provisional approval to operate by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
These routes will threaten some legacy airlines’ bread and butter routes by driving prices down. For example, Norwegian’s new service between London Gatwick and Denver or Chicago will likely hurt United’s yields to Europe. United responded in the case of Denver by adding its own nonstop service to London Heathrow, but airlines will be hard pressed to match all Norwegian’s new USA service.
United’s pilot union, part of the larger Air Line Pilot’s Association, is incredulous of this approval, issuing a statement—
Despite the President’s assurance that “Every member of my administration shares the same goal – to provide a level playing field for American workers and for American industry,” the DOT is unfathomably allowing this Norway-based company to tilt the playing field in their favor by operating out of Ireland and the UK with pilots hired in Asia expressly to avoid Norwegian labor protections. There is no more flagrant use of a flag-of-convenience than this NAI/NAUK model.
This sort of reaction is expected: everyone wants to protect their turf. Problem is, there is a great pilot shortage around the world and that is being felt by Norwegian. Last week the carrier had to cancel flights out of Providence, RI due to pilot shortages. Norwegian is aggressively recruiting Americans to fly its planes. Yet ALPA doesn’t even acknowledge it.
The Patriotism Canard
Sadly, ALPA didn’t stop with their reasonable concern. It pulled the national security card, always a sign of desperation.
With this week’s White House theme focusing on America’s military and first- responder heroes, we note that a robust and healthy U.S. airline industry is vital to our nation’s military readiness, which relies on the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF). If protecting U.S. workers was not reason enough to shoot down the Norwegian UK application, surely maintaining the backbone of our airlift and pilot pipeline should be.
Translation: if we don’t block Norwegian, our national security is in jeopardy. That’s ridiculous. More details on the CRAF program here.
According to ALPA, the solution must be to force Norwegian to hire only U.S. pilots for U.S. flights:
Continuing to allow Norwegian Air International and Norwegian Air-UK to violate the worker protection provisions in our Open Skies trade agreements gives them an unfair advantage over the U.S. airline industry. Instead of listening to the Norwegian Air CEO’s hollow promises that he will hire U.S.-based pilots, the DOT needs to amend their approval and make such hiring a requirement to operate to the U.S. Otherwise, we will be listening to Norwegian Air’s foreign investors laughing at the expense of American workers and suffer the weakening of a critical component of our national defense – the pipeline of U.S. pilots flying U.S. aircraft.
Think of the ramifications of that demand. It implies that all non-U.S. carriers should use only U.S.-based pilots, a laughingly ridiculous proposition that should be dismissed as such.
The sense of desperation is palatable. The only problem is ALPA’s disconnect from reality. Far from U.S.pilots being under existential threat, there is actually a huge shortage of pilots. Want a stable, well-paid job? Study to be a pilot. The good news–the LCCs are hiring.