Russian airspace closed to NAS

Norwegian Airlines says ban is difficult to comprehend

Photo: calflier001 / Flickr NAS passengers from Norway to Thailand will be seeing more of this, as Russia makes flights divert around its airspace.

Photo: calflier001 / Flickr
NAS passengers from Norway to Thailand will be seeing more of this, as Russia makes flights divert around its airspace.

Michael Sandelson
The Foreigner

Low-priced carrier Norwegian Air Shuttle decries the alleged bad deal over the carrier’s Norway-Thailand route. Government officials are cautious in their statements.

The row concerns Norwegian being denied permission to use Russian airspace on the way from Oslo to Bangkok. Russian authorities allow the carrier to fly from Norway to St. Petersburg, as well as use the Federation’s airspace for Norwegian’s flights to Dubai.

No similar Oslo-Bangkok restrictions have been placed on Thai Airways. SAS also flies between Scandinavia and Russia, and uses Russian airspace on its Scandinavia-Asia routes.

“It’s unfair treatment,” airline press spokesperson Lasse Sandaker-Nielsen tells The Foreigner. “It [the ban] means we need extra pilots, use more fuel, and flight time is one hour longer.”

The Russians’ move is believed to have cost Norwegian some NOK 100m extra (about USD 13.16m/RUB 839.82m) the past year. Pilots inform Dagens Næringsliv (DN) that they have to fly southwards to Turkey before setting course eastwards to Bangkok. Extra fuel burned per trip is about 4.5 tons.

Boeing says its 787-8 Dreamliner has a range of 7,850 nautical miles (some 14,500 kilometers/9,010 miles). The aircraft seats up to 242 passengers, and cruising speed is 0.85 Mach (about 1,040 km/h – or 647 mph).

Terming the Russians’ move “completely meaningless,” Norwegian CEO Bjørn Kjos thinks Norwegian authorities should consider barring Russian carriers from Norwegian airspace. “They wouldn’t be able to fly from Russia to New York, for example, if we’d done the same to Russia.”

“Norway should tell Russia that we’ll close the airspace if they don’t open theirs. I think the matter would have been solved within 24 hours,” he says.
But the Russian front isn’t the only one the airline is fighting on.

Norwegian, which continues to await approval for its long-haul flights to the U.S. using their Ireland-registered Dreamliners, wet leases their planes. So-termed wet leasing means renting a plane with crew. The low-cost carrier uses personnel supplied by staffing agencies in Bangkok.

Norwegian and American unions, as well as U.S. Senators vehemently oppose the airline’s move.

They argue that long-haul company Norwegian Air International’s (NAI) position as a subsidiary of Norwegian Air Shuttle (NAS), a Norway-registered company, means the airline is attempting to gain an unfair competitive advantage. This is because NAI is registered in Ireland, an EU country. Their planes have an Ireland-issued AOC (Air Operators Certificate), thus giving access to the transatlantic EU-U.S. Open Skies Agreement.

Moreover, it is asserted that these crews being based in Asia means working conditions and pay are inferior, with the airline avoiding Norway’s strong labor protections, tax laws, and regulations.

Norwegian is currently renting older planes to fly the route instead of the Ireland-registered Dreamliners. They have denied the claims by unions.

At the same time, applications by foreign air carriers seeking to provide service under the Open Skies Agreement can only be approved if they fully conform to U.S. law and Article 17 bis of this transatlantic deal.

This follows a move by U.S. Senators including these terms in the proposed Fiscal Year 2015 (FY 2015) spending bill. “With the foreign air carrier permit application of NAI pending before the Department of Transportation (DOT), this language is especially timely and crucial. NAI plans to base its operation in Ireland despite no set plans to fly in or out of that country, and to hire workers based in Bangkok through a Singaporean hiring agency,” Transportation Trades Department (TTD), AFL-CIO President Edward Wytkind has said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Norwegian Air Shuttle’s Bjørn Kjos battles on with his stated troubles regarding the Russian airspace issue. According to him, the matter is really about the Federation “wanting to prevent new competition,” Dagens Næringsliv quotes him as saying.

Deputy Minister of Transport and Communications for the Progress Party (FrP), Tom Cato Karlsen, tells the publication that they have not drawn any conclusions about the matter for now.

“Russian authorities are aware of that this could have consequences for Russian companies’ ability to fly over our territory should Norwegian companies not be allowed to fly over Russian territory in accordance with what is agreed between both countries.” The ministry was not willing to elaborate further to The Foreigner.

The Foreigner has asked the Russian Embassy in Oslo’s press attaché for comment.

This article was originally published on The Foreigner. To subscribe to The Foreigner, visit theforeigner.no.

It also appeared in the Feb. 20, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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