The US House Transportation Committee advanced a bill Sept. 19 that would ban foreign “flag of convenience” carriers from flying to the US.

The Fair and Open Skies Act would bar the Department of Transportation (DOT) from issuing a permit or exemption to any “foreign air carrier that is established in a country other than the home country of its majority owner … to avoid the regulations of its home country.”  

Transportation Committee chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) accused LCC Norwegian Air International (NAI), the Irish-based subsidiary of Norwegian Air Shuttle (NAS), of operating under a flag of convenience during the bill’s markup Sept. 19. He said the Obama administration “made a huge mistake” when it granted the airline a foreign air carrier permit in 2016. 

“Norwegian is not actually Norwegian. It’s a company that chose Ireland as a base because the Irish law was much weaker on labor protection,” DeFazio said.

Norwegian director of communications-North America Anders Lindström told ATW that "Norwegian is indeed Norwegian, and headquartered in Oslo, Norway." He also noted that NAI no longer operates to the US.

“Norwegian and its subsidiaries are not so-called ‘flag of convenience,’ but actually headquartered and staffed in the country they are based, while also fully complying with all US laws and regulations,” Lindström added.

Aviation subcommittee ranking member Garret Graves (R-Louisiana), while expressing support for the bill’s stated aim of protecting US aviation jobs, said he was concerned about possible retaliatory action by the European Union against US carriers were the bill to become law.

“There have been concerns raised about the compatibility of the legislation with international agreements and potential retaliatory actions, and I want to ensure that, as we move forward, we continue to work on the bill to ensure we don’t run afoul of any of the international agreements out there and provoke any unintended consequences,” Graves said.

DeFazio responded, “I certainly do not want to open up the US to any retaliation, and we can continue to work on this, but we need to find a way to stem the potential for future Norwegian business models.”

The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) applauded the move in a statement, saying that “venue-shopping efforts allow airlines to undermine workers’ pay, benefits and work rules. In addition, they also threaten to erode the proactive safety culture that we have fostered here in the US.”

US Airlines for Open Skies, which includes cargo carriers FedEx Express and Atlas Air, as well as JetBlue Airways, took the opposite view, slamming the bill for seeking to “unilaterally impose new requirements on otherwise qualified foreign air carriers seeking to fly to the US.”

Ben Goldstein, Ben.Goldstein@aviationweek.com