Boeing takes an unusual geopolitcal stand over air service

Boeing is officially frustrated with opposition from the Machinists union and U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen to Norwegian Air’s plans to expand flights to and from the U.S. via a subsidiary.

Boeing leadership is concerned that the opposition could put future airplane orders at risk.

The position of Larsen and the union is “disappointing” and could “have the effect of undermining growth in aerospace jobs here in Washington state,” Boeing spokesman Paul Bergman said. “We hope they reconsider their positions and join in growing the aerospace sector.”

Boeing typically does not take public positions on political issues. So, measured as the language is, it is dramatic for the aerospace company.

Bigger economic issues are at stake, say Larsen and officials with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. The union’s District Lodge 751 represents more than 30,000 Boeing workers in Washington.

Norwegian Air wants to operate low-cost flights between the U.S. and Ireland through its subsidiary, Norwegian Air International (NAI). The U.S.-European Union Open Skies Agreement allows any airline based in the U.S. or E.U. to fly between any points in the E.U. and U.S.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has tentatively approved NAI’s application to operate transatlantic flights.

But critics say NAI is based in Ireland only to skirt stricter U.S. and European labor laws. In April, Larsen and three other members of Congress submitted legislation — House Bill 5090 — to block DOT approval.

The Open Skies Agreement prohibits its use to undermine labor standards, but DOT did not invoke that article in reviewing NAI’s application.

Larsen said he’s pressed the department for an explanation but with no luck.

“Norwegian Air is flying to the U.S. with Boeing planes. They’re doing that right now,” he said. “Establishing NAI in Ireland seems to be unnecessary but for one purpose: dodging labor laws.”

Norwegian Air founder and CEO Bjørn Kjos rejected the accusation in a blog post on The Hill, a political and government news website.

“NAI does not have any Asian-based cabin crew or pilots, and Norwegian has, and will continue, to publically state that only U.S. and E.U.-based crew will be used on NAI transatlantic services,” Kjos writes. “This has been committed in writing to the DOT.”

Larsen is skeptical.

“That’s what they’ve said, that doesn’t mean they will do it,” he said.

The IAM has come out against NAI’s application. District Lodge 751 is supporting its leadership.

“We’re not interested in converting good wage jobs into low wage ones for foreign workers,” said Larry Brown, 751’s political director. “We can’t allow workers and unions to be picked off here and there without realizing they’ll eventually come for us.”

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