International visitors are gold in Central Florida's tourism-driven economy. On average travelers from abroad stay longer and spend more than their U.S. counterparts. Their regional economic impact has been measured at $2 billion a year.
So it's no wonder that some of Central Florida's top leaders, including Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, are supporting Norwegian Air International's application with the U.S. Department of Transportation to launch two-day-a-week service between Oslo and Orlando International Airport. The Greater Orlando Aviation Authority has estimated those flights would pump another $32 million a year into this region's economy, and support more than 400 jobs.
We agree with the mayors. More international air service won't just boost tourism and the economy in Central Florida; it'll be good for passengers, spurring other airlines to reduce their ticket prices and improve their service to keep up.
And we disagree with the major U.S. airlines that dominate transatlantic travel, and the nation's biggest pilots union. They've launched a public-relations offensive to keep NAI — a low-cost, non-union rival — out of the market. Surprise.
The airlines and the union have accused NAI of skirting labor and safety standards by registering in Ireland and basing crews in Thailand. There's more self-interest than substance to these claims.
NAI's Irish registration allows it to benefit from rights to U.S. airspace, under the "open skies" agreement between the United States and European Union, that it wouldn't enjoy from Norway. And the airline's financing costs for its aircraft — which include U.S.-built Boeing 787 Dreamliners — are lower in Ireland.
NAI's labor strategy avoids high costs and stringent regulations in Norway, but the airline already has hired hundreds of employees at its U.S. destinations, including New York and Fort Lauderdale. Those crews will be covered by federal and state worker protections, according to GOAA.
On safety, the airline's operating certificate has been approved by Irish regulators, who have been ranked among the world's top civil aviation authorities. Its U.S.-bound crews and equipment also will come under federal oversight. And it has a contract with Boeing to provide regular maintenance for its planes.
It's clear that NAI's business model is to cut its costs to keep its prices low. That's what successful companies do. As long as it isn't breaking the rules or sacrificing safety — and there's no indication it is, despite the suggestions of its critics — NAI shouldn't be denied its chance to compete.
No matter how uncomfortable it makes U.S. companies and unions, foreign competition is inescapable in today's global economy. They're better off confronting it than appealing to regulators for protection.
We urge the Transportation Department to approve NAI's application without further delay.