Airlines

Open Skies Under Debate Again as Unions Back Proposed Bill

Open Skies Under Debate Again as Unions Back Proposed Bill
Joe Cortez

The Open Skies debate could once again come to Washington, D.C., as unions are backing a bipartisan bill setting wage and safety standards for foreign-based carrier. Both the Air Line Pilots Association and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers are backing a bill promising “Open and Fair Skies” for all air carriers.

Since 2015, U.S.-based airlines and aviation labor unions have claimed the “Middle East Three” – Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways – grew their businesses by allegedly accepting illegal subsidies from their respective federal governments. Six years later, the issue may get new attention from lawmakers, as at least two unions are backing the Fair and Open Skies Act of 2021.

Proposed Bill Sets U.S.-E.U.-Norway-Iceland Air Agreement as Standard

The proposed law was introduced to Congress by a contingency of representatives in the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. If passed, it would require the U.S. Department of Transportation to apply the standards set by the U.S.-E.U.-Norway-Iceland Air Transport Agreement to all air carriers flying between the United States and Europe.

In addition, the bill would address carriers flying under a “flag of convenience,” by claiming their presence would undermine labor standards. Before the DOT could grant a foreign air carrier permit to a new aviation participant, the agency would be required to consider the airline’s labor practices.

“As travel begins to pick back up following the COVID-19 pandemic, this bipartisan bill will make sure that any foreign airlines looking to serve the United States play by the rules,” Peter DeFazio (D-OR), chairman of the committee, said in a statement. “In the past, we have seen foreign airlines set up under a flag of convenience business model to exploit weaker labor laws outside their home countries in order to save money, undercut competition, and skirt important labor standards to get a leg up. By preventing such an airline from serving the U.S., this bipartisan bill protects American jobs from predatory and unfair competition.”

With the proposed move, Congress wouldn’t just be targeting the “Middle East Three,” which have been accused of abusing “fifth freedom” and “flag of convenience” rules in establishing flights. In 2018, the FAA Reauthorization Bill took aim at Norwegian Air as a “flag of convenience” carrier, because the company operated subsidiary airlines under the same brand in Dublin and London. Norwegian has since withdrawn from the U.S. market, citing the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Both the Air Line Pilots Association and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers have publicly backed the bill, claiming that it adds protections for American laborers, while ensuring a consistent level of safety.

“We cannot let foreign carriers exploit the rules in place and undermine American workers and passengers,” said IAM international president Robert Martinez, Jr. in a statement. “This pro-worker legislation would give DOT the authority it so desperately needs to protect fair wages and working conditions for American aviation workers while enhancing safety for the flying public.”

Bill Adds Pressure to Potentially Stressed International Markets

The move by the House Transportation Committee and the labor unions potentially adds stress to what has turned out to be a contentious year for the aviation industry. In May 2021, the Federal Aviation Administration downgraded Mexico to a Category 2 country, prohibiting codesharing with U.S.-based airlines and adding new routes into U.S. airports.

View Comments (5)

5 Comments

  1. edgewood49

    June 9, 2021 at 7:02 am

    The bottom line is stymying competition from foreign flags such as ME3 and low cost airlines, period. As long as a carrier is regulated as to training/maintenance why not allow them to fly?

  2. rthib

    June 9, 2021 at 8:26 am

    Good for Union, bad for everyone else.
    Here is what was said about when this nonsense was introduced before –
    “This unnecessary bill only invites retaliation by our international Open Skies partners, with the flying public shouldering the greatest consequences”

  3. bigbuy

    June 9, 2021 at 10:27 am

    Disgusting but predictable behavior from US airlines and their unions. By seemingly forgeting about the billions and billions of dollars that they have accepted from us taxpayers since the pandemic started. At least when I fly one of the three Middle East carriers the restroom doesn’t look and smell like a pigsty when I get to my destination.

  4. JimInOhio

    June 10, 2021 at 6:17 am

    “Before the DOT could grant a foreign air carrier permit to a new aviation participant, the agency would be required to consider the airline’s labor practices.”

    Does anyone else see what a political mess this little step can become?

  5. dogcanyon

    June 13, 2021 at 3:35 pm

    “Does anyone else see what a political mess this little step can become?”

    I totally agree with your assessment, Jim.

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