Football is about to start, and all of Oakland seems to be focused on the Raiders and rooting for a great season. As a professional airline pilot who has worked for U.S. airlines for almost 30 years, however, I'm concerned about a different kind of raider -- and if these raiders prevail, the effects could be disastrous.
Right now, the U.S. aviation system is among the safest in the world. Almost 65 million passengers used Bay Area airports last year, and I'm proud to have been one of the pilots getting them safely to their destinations. But today we're facing a serious threat to the industry -- an attempt to evade long-standing principles of safety and security by creating a new flag-of-convenience model at the expense of U.S. airlines and their employees.
Norwegian Air International (NAI) is seeking U.S. government approval to fly in and out of the United States. It's Norwegian owned, based in Ireland (though it never lands there), and hires Thailand-based pilots through a Singaporean contracting firm. Why? Advantageous laws and regulations that build an unlevel playing field.
This has happened before. In the 1960s, a flag-of-convenience model took over the U.S. maritime industry and reduced it to shambles. A profession that employed 100,000 Americans now has fewer than 2,500.
Allowing the Norwegian raiders to create an unlevel playing field in the airline industry will produce the same result: U.S. airline jobs will become a thing of the past.
The U.S. airline industry directly employs more than 500,000 Americans (with the three Bay-area airports supporting more than 40,000 jobs) and indirectly supports the jobs of millions more. It accounts for fully 5 percent of our gross domestic product. And it safely transports people and goods across the country and throughout the world every day, enabling our very way of life. All of that is at risk.
NAI's application for a foreign air-carrier permit raises questions about safety oversight and accountability. How can Ireland's regulator verify with confidence that NAI's operations meet international standards when its planes will never touch Irish soil?
You've read plenty of articles about safety issues regarding cruise ships in today's maritime industry. That's the future of air travel under the NAI model.
A Norwegian airline based in Ireland hires Thai pilots through a Singapore agency -- each location specially selected to create an unlevel playing field.
While the airline industry has never shied away from competition, anyone would have a hard time competing when the playing field isn't level. Imagine the Raiders lining up against a team with two quarterbacks, each with a football. We all need to play by the same rules. U.S. airlines can and will thrive in a fair competitive environment.
But NAI's shell game eschews fairness, and it's prohibited by both U.S. law and the U.S. European Union Air Transport Agreement. Hundreds in Congress, including both California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer; my local representative, John Garamendi; and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, agree and have spoken publicly and/or voted against this scheme.
The Department of Transportation must enforce U.S. law and the U.S.-EU Open Skies treaty by denying NAI's application.
Keep these raiders out of our airports and maintain the safety, accountability, and competitiveness of this great industry.
Jeff Greco is a commercial airline pilot.