02 July 2014 at 08.31 GMT
Plans by Europe’s third-largest budget airline to establish a subsidiary in Ireland to operate transatlantic flights should be put on hold, according to the UK pilots’ union.
The British Airline Pilots Association made the call ahead of Norwegian launching low-fare flights from Gatwick to the US from today (Wednesday).
The union welcomed the start of services to New York, Los Angeles and Fort Lauderdale with lead-in fares of £149 one-way.
But US regulators have so far barred an Irish registered subsidiary, Norwegian Air International, from launching transatlantic flights from the UK flown by pilots based in Bangkok on Singapore employment contracts.
Balpa has also raised concerns with the Civil Aviation Authority and Department for Transport about the potential for airlines to begin taking the ‘flags of convenience’ approach used in shipping, which would leave passengers unaware of which safety, training and pilot standards an airline is required to meet.
The issue has been highlighted despite Norwegian insisting that the main reason it established the Irish-based long-haul arm was to gain access to traffic rights to and from the EU, as Norway is not an EU member state.
The airline said: “Some have falsely claimed that Ireland was chosen because it has regulations that allow the use of American or Asian crew. The truth is that Norwegian is already allowed to use American and Asian crew on flights to the US operated by a Norwegian affiliate, just as other foreign airlines have done for years.”
However, Balpa general secretary Jim McAuslan, said: “UK pilots welcome the opening of new routes from the UK to the US as will passengers.
“The use of European pilots on this new route will reassure passengers who may otherwise have been concerned about an airline associated with a particular country by name which is in fact cherry-picking another country to oversee its safety standards and yet another to employ its pilots.
“This complex arrangement would be a slippery slope towards a ‘flags of convenience’ approach and should be put on hold until the impact on passenger confidence, safety and employment standards is clearly assessed.”
Norwegian is to use new generation Boeing 787 Dreamliners carrying 291 passengers on the Gatwick transatlantic services, with two flights a week to Los Angeles from today, three a week to New York from tomorrow and two a week to Fort Lauderdale from Friday
Norwegian chief executive Bjørn Kjos and Gatwick chief executive Stewart Wingate are due to discuss the transatlantic plans at the airport tomorrow ahead of the start of New York flights.
Sourced from Travel Weekly