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To shore up growth in the United States in coming years, Norwegian Air Shuttle announced Monday it is recruiting and hiring American pilots for its crew base at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
The Scandinavian low-cost airline, which has drawn opposition from U.S. carriers and unions over its business practices, said its goal is to hire a “large pool” of American pilots to ensure adequate staffing for the dozens of new Boeing Dreamliner aircraft expected to join its fleet over the next few years.
“Hiring American pilots for our long-haul operation has been one of Norwegian’s goals since launching our transatlantic service three years ago, and we are thrilled that we are finally able to do so,” said Asgeir Nyseth, Norwegian Group chief operating officer, in a statement.
“With the delivery of 31 additional Boeing Dreamliners over the next few years, Norwegian is excited to be adding American pilots to our ever-growing workforce.”
Norwegian will be the only European airline to hire U.S.-based pilots, Nyseth said.
For its Fort Lauderdale pilots’ base, the carrier is aiming to hire a minimum of 24 crew members to support operations of one Dreamliner aircraft, spokesman Anders Lindstrom said. That will include one base captain, nine captains, five relief captains and nine first officers, he said.
“We will start with a pilot’s base in Fort Lauderdale, but the ambition, of course, is to grow and also have more pilot bases in the U.S.,” Lindstrom said. “Recruitment is already in place, with job ads just out, and we aim to have them working during the first six months of 2017.”
The airline has received nearly 100 applications for the pilots’ jobs, which will offer competitive salaries, Lindstrom added.
Norwegian first began recruiting American flight attendants for its bases at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood and John F. Kennedy International Airport in October 2013. Three years later, it expects to have more than 500 American cabin crew members across the two bases by year’s end, Norwegian said.
In August, Norwegian’s U.S. base flight attendants voted for union representation through the Norwegian Cabin Crew Association, with assistance from the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA in Washington, D.C., which represents nearly 60,000 flight attendants at several major carriers.
Norwegian launched service between Fort Lauderdale and Scandinavia in late 2013, with flights to Oslo, Norway; Copenhagen, Denmark; and Stockholm, Sweden. It then added service to London’s Gatwick Airport in July 2014 and, most recently, to Paris, France this August.
Since it began operations at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood in November 2013, Norwegian has carried 511,894 passengers on 1,977 flights to and from there, airport records show.
Next up, Norwegian plans to launch service from Fort Lauderdale to Guadeloupe in the French Caribbean on Dec. 17 and to Barcelona, Spain on Aug. 22.
Given the upcoming launch of several new routes from the United States, the hiring of American pilots over the next few years will allow it to adequately accommodate the growth of its long-haul network, airline officials have said.
Norwegian said it will cover the cost of converting the U.S. pilots’ certification from a Federal Aviation Administration pilot certificate to a European pilot license based on European Aviation Safety Agency regulations.
“Continuing our U.S. expansion is one of the key factors to Norwegian’s global strategy, and we want to be able to support the local market and stimulate those economies as much as we possibly can,” Nyseth said. “We are still looking at opening more crew bases across the U.S., and depending on the success of the American pilots in Fort Lauderdale, we’ll include pilots in each of those new bases as well.”
Currently, two subsidiaries — Norwegian Air International (Ireland) and Norwegian UK (London) — are awaiting approval from the Department of Transportation for their foreign air carrier permit to operate flights between the United States and Europe.
Their approval would allow the airline to more effectively utilize its long-haul fleet and establish a seamless operation, including the use of the same aircraft on both U.S. and other long-haul routes to Asia and South America, Norwegian said.
Norwegian Air International’s application, which has been pending for more than two years, has received opposition from industry groups including the AFA and Air Line Pilots Association International (ALPA).
AFA has said NAI’s business model evades international labor laws and seeks to create unfair competition with U.S. carriers. ALPA, which represents more than 52,000 pilots at 30 airlines in North America, contends the airline’s business plan threatens fair competition and U.S. jobs.