Blocking airline a threat to Boeing workers

Congressman Rick Larsen’s incongruous, anti-consumer and anti-Boeing worker rhetoric threatens aerospace jobs at Boeing and kowtows to airline unions afraid of competition that would make low fares to Europe a reality for American consumers. Families in the Puget Sound community should be alarmed.

On April 4, Rep. Larsen, D-Washington, chastised the Boeing Co. for announced reductions in its Commercial Airplane Division workforce. He stated: “Workers and many others in our state have taken decisive action to ensure a strong future for Boeing and aerospace manufacturing in our region. To see Boeing respond to Washington state’s clear commitment with thousands of job cuts is deeply troubling.”

On April 15, the Larsen took aim at Norwegian Air International (NAI), which alone has $18.5 billion of orders with Boeing and had just received tentative approval from the U.S. Department of Transportation to begin service to the United States. Larsen stated: “I am deeply troubled by DOT’s recent decision to tentatively grant a foreign carrier permit for NAI.”

The irony of these statements could not be clearer. Congressman Larsen is a lead sponsor — along with Reps. Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, Frank LoBiondo, R-New Jersey, and Lynn Westmoreland, R-Georgia, — of H.R. 5090, introduced last month, that seeks to effectively kill Norwegian Air’s application by tying the Transportation secretary’s hands. Remarkably, at the same time that Larsen is chastising Boeing for layoffs he is leading a campaign to block the entry of a foreign carrier — NAI — that has invested heavily in Boeing aircraft built in Everett and Renton — Larsen’s home district.

For years Norwegian has been one of Boeing’s largest foreign airline partners with more than 100 Boeing aircraft in its fleet. Norwegian is the European launch customer for the Boeing 737MAX, and one of the first to use the Dreamliner as it was intended — for point-to-point service. Norwegian’s $18.5 billion of orders with Boeing will support more than 100,000 good jobs in the Puget Sound region and within the U.S. Clearly, Larsen did not thoroughly consider consumers or line workers in his pronouncements. What Boeing line worker is willing to lose his job to prevent NAI from offering affordable fares to and from Europe? The congressman represents “Exhibit A” in the white-hot anger Americans feel toward political elites that put the priorities of special interests first, second and third.

Uncertainty is the enemy of job creation in business. Losses from the two-and-a-half year politically charged delay of NAI’s application are incalculable. The world’s governments and major aviation stakeholders — including the U.S. cities that will benefit from NAI’s service — watched the distasteful delay with incomprehension, and no doubt, foreign carriers that could have replaced lost connectivity and air service to midsize U.S. communities, due to domestic airline industry consolidation, chose instead to place their expensive aircraft assets in other international markets.

Now that Transportation Department and the departments of Justice and State have determined that there is no legal basis whatsoever to deny approval of NAI’s application, Larsen doubles down with H.R. 5090. Instead of helping repair the damage done to our country’s image by airline unions and some members of Congress, the Congressman now proposes to change U.S. law to protect the big airlines and their unions from competition. He risks causing irreparable damage to the U.S. reputation as a dependable aviation liberalization partner.

Boeing line workers have more than Rep. Larsen to thank for this threat to their jobs. The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), in full throated support of the Air Line Pilots Association, rips the NAI business model in stating on its website:? ?“If permitted access to the U.S. aviation market, NAI will place severe downward pressure on the wages, benefits and working conditions of U.S. airline workers because NAI will not have to adhere to the same standards as U.S. airlines are required to.”

That fallacious IAM argument, of course, ignores NAI’s commitment to use European Union and U.S. crews on transatlantic routes. It also sidesteps the fact that NAI’s pilots and flight attendants are paid competitive market wages as the European Commission has documented in the federal proceeding.

Astonishingly, IAM is supporting ALPA while ignoring its own workers in the aerospace industry. IAM is supporting ALPA even as IAM members’ jobs are at risk; however, you never see ALPA publically advocating that U.S. airlines buy Boeing airplanes and standing up for IAM members’ jobs — it’s a one-way street. IAM would appear more interested in ALPA’s members than its own.

Kevin Mitchell is founder of the Business Travel Coalition and OpenSkies.travel.

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