WASHINGTON, DC – “Another vivid example of why voters are white-hot-mad as Washington and special interests collude to undermine consumers’ interests.” This is how the Business Travel Coalition and OpenSkies.travel today described HR 5090, introduced by US Congressional Representatives Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ), Rick Larsen (D-WA), and Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA).
Orwellian in the extreme, H.R. 5090 would undermine the authority of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and arrogantly override the legal determinations of the Departments of Justice and State in supporting DOT’s decision to tentatively approve Norwegian Air International’s (NAI) application to serve the U.S. under an Open Skies agreement with the EU.
Specifically, H.R. 5090 implies that the “intent” of the Open Skies agreement was to permit DOT to unilaterally reject applications by European air carriers if, in DOT’s sole judgment, the airlines do not meet undefined “labor standards.” Likewise, European authorities could block flights by U.S. airlines if their “labor standards” do not measure up to undefined European norms. The fact is that DOT, fully supported by the Legal Adviser of the Department of State and the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice, concluded precisely the opposite. The bizarre interpretation underpinning H.R. 5090 would spell the end of Open Skies and favor special interests at a handful of unions above the interests of hundreds of millions of American and European consumers.
DOT’s review process was exemplary in that the agency double peer reviewed its legal analysis with the U.S. Departments of Justice and State, thereby ensuring that its determination was irreproachable. The NAI decision is an important win for U.S. consumers, as the U.S. airline industry has consolidated – especially in the transatlantic market where three antitrust immunized alliances control 80 percent of the market. NAI will inject competition into new markets, driving fares lower and increasing service to underserved communities.
The four sponsoring Representatives appear to have bought into the absurd notion that NAI “could put every U.S. aviation employee at risk.” The fact is that U.S. airlines employed 3.8 percent more workers in February 2016 representing the 27th consecutive month that airline full-time employment exceeded the same month of the previous year. What’s more, NAI has committed to using U.S. and EU flight and cabin crews for transatlantic flights, once it commences service. What is really opposed is competition by a new airline that is ready, willing and able to give consumers what they want – affordable fares and new destinations.
It’s time Congress refocuses on the principle that consumers, not special interests, represent the “North Star” in U.S. aviation policy.