With the Emirates Milan saga, where US & Italian airlines are backing a play to force the Gulf carrier off the Fifth Freedom New York route, it led me to look into similar instances that have happened over the last few months that perhaps lead to a deeper situation.
It seems that US-based airlines and the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) are trying their hand at stopping outsider airlines from getting to the United States rather than just expanding themselves.
Let’s take a closer look.
As Emirates fights to keep the Milan route, ALPA has been taking other shots at the Gulf carriers that make you wonder just what they are up to. In early April, ALPA put out a press release encouraging the US government to stop using the US Export Import (Ex-Im) Bank to fund the expansion of international airlines.
What is the Export Import Bank? Well, the best explanation comes from Brett over at Crankyflier, but to put it simply the Ex-Im Bank helps fund the export of US goods to international buyers. Have a lovely shiny new American-made aircraft you want to sell to the world? These are the guys to speak to. But the reason why the Ex-Im bank is so important is that they are backed by the US government. Really, whatever the Ex-Im bank is supporting is more like what the US government is supporting.
So, when ALPA asked the government to “take a good look” at what the Ex-Im Bank is doing to American jobs when they are helping fund the sale of aircraft to international-based carriers, what they really mean is “What you think is a good thing, is really taking away airline jobs… stop it!”
When did ALPA start doing this? Well, it may have been in the new year, after a raft of orders for the 777X to international airlines were announced, and many of those were going to Gulf-based carriers.
It seems that ALPA is not only trying to stop the expansion of the the Gulf carriers, but European ones as well. One of the early recipients of the 787 was Norwegian Air International (NAI). In 2013, they received their first 787s and shortly began their international expansion with flights to New York, Fort Lauderdale, & Bangkok. They soon expanded the reach from their aircraft base in Oslo to other cities in the USA, and announced they want to introduce transatlantic service between the US & Europe/UK. Before they could start those flights, Norwegian started to change the way their business was structured.
Since Norway is not part of the EU, they don’t have access to the Open Skies agreement. The easiest way to fix that would be to have an airline based in the EU, right? That is what NAI did, by registering and applying for an Air Operators Certificate (AOC) in Ireland. They chose Ireland since the majority of NAI’s aircraft are registered in this EU country, and they wouldn’t be the only airline that does that.
All of Alitalia’s current fleet are in the progress of being swapped from Italian registry to Irish to make business easier with their leased aircraft (apparently Italian law is convoluted, and since they can’t make up their own mind as it is, who knows what they would do when an aircraft needs repossessing).
So if Irish law is fairly easy in regards to registering an aircraft, why not register your whole airline there? By doing this, NAI has opened up their airline within the EU, and have already started operating flights for their Norwegian-based parent company. Confused yet?
Well, to make things worse for your brain, Norwegian Air wants to open up a crew base here in the USA, allowing them to use American crews, on Irish-registered aircraft, based in Europe (either UK or Norway), and operating flights for a Norwegian airline that is headquartered in Ireland. I think my head just exploded!
But, of course, this is where ALPA comes in. They don’t like the idea of US crew working for an international airline (at bargain pay). They think that because NAI has worked around the laws of its own country they have an unfair advantage over the US-based airlines. By appealing to the DOT to reject the application for the flights, they are fighting to keep quality US jobs here in the USA, and keeping the American skies… American… patriotic, right? Well, the ALPA’s responsibility is to protect their 50,000 pilot members.
Norwegian Air wants to expand their operations to additional cities in both the US & Europe. Opening up more cities to extra flights should bring jobs and money, not just to the airline, but to anyone affiliated with tourism businesses, plus the trickle-down effect. Even though NAI is a low-cost carrier, that doesn’t mean that everyone who flies them is doing so for leisure purposes. Opening up the skies to more airlines means more competition, and thus lower costs. How does NAI think they can make this work? Well with a US crew and state-of-the-art Dreamliners, they believe they can make it work.
As the US Airlines & ALPA fight to keep jobs and money here in the USA, are they also cutting off their nose despite their face? Is the blocking of US exports to Gulf airlines a smart move, or is it going to hurt the US in other areas if they are successful? Who is going to be on the winning side is yet to be seen, but who should that be? Perhaps you have an opinion on who is doing the right thing here?