Norwegian Air International filed an application to serve the US from Europe under the US-EU Open Skies agreement in late 2013 with the DoT. On April 15th of this year, 29 months later, the DOT tentatively approved their application. The agency is gathering a last round of industry comments and a final and favorable DOT decision is expected in June.
The big three US airlines oppose this application, and the low-cost competition it will bring. After having been rejected by the DOT, Justice Department and State Department, the major US airlines are now lobbying Congress to kill the NAI application via legislation. Since the Big Three and their antitrust immunized partners control 78% of trans-Atlantic seats (up from 55% in 2010), the last thing they want is additional competition and service to under-served communities.
Are the Big Three airlines, American, Delta and United afraid of a new low fare competitor across the Atlantic? Apparently so. Are they afraid of the efficiency of the Boeing 787 against their older and less modern fleets? Apparently so. Do they care about the jobs in Seattle and Charlotte, where the 787 is built? Apparently not so much.
The US Congress is already, in the eyes of the public, one of the least respected US institutions, with an abysmal approval rating of 13.8% according to the latest poll averages from Real Clear Politics. Taking action to support a small group of airlines, that heavily lobby Capitol Hill, to overturn consumer protection processes would be an unusual and unpopular action.
Should it really have taken two and a half years for Norwegian to get its application approved? Has any other airline waited this long since open skies were established? And if the US airlines opposing the competition can’t win in the regulatory process with logic and facts, should they have the power to simply legislate competition away? Something appears rotten on Capitol Hill, and let’s hope the House and Senate reject anti-competitive legislation being pushed by lobbyists for the Big Three.