May 11, 2021

Led by T&I Members, Bipartisan Group Introduces Fair and Open Skies Act

Bipartisan legislation would help prevent a race to the bottom in international civil aviation

Bill Text | Fact Sheet | Section-by-Section

Washington, DC- Today, Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Chair of the Subcommittee on Aviation Rick Larsen (D-WA), Vice Chair of the Committee Sharice Davids (D-KS), Vice Chair of the Subcommittee on Aviation Conor Lamb (D-PA), Representative Kaiali'i Kahele (D-HI), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit Rodney Davis (R-IL), and Representatives Drew Ferguson (R-GA), Bill Johnson (R-OH), Don Bacon (R-NE), and Jack Bergman (R-MI) introduced bipartisan legislation seeking to preclude new foreign airlines from operating to and from the United States when they exploit “flags of convenience” to avoid the regulations of their home countries, or otherwise undermine labor standards.  

Specifically, this legislation requires the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to ensure that any new foreign air carrier permit issued to a foreign airline that will fly between the United States and Europe under the U.S.-E.U.-Norway-Iceland Air Transport Agreement is consistent with the agreement’s requirements regarding fair labor standards and fair competition. In addition, this legislation establishes that preventing entry into U.S. markets by foreign airlines exploiting flags of convenience or undermining labor standards is in the U.S. public interest, and it requires DOT to consider these factors before granting a future foreign air carrier permit.

Chair DeFazio has previously introduced similar legislation after DOT, in December 2016, issued a foreign air carrier permit to Norwegian Air International (NAI), a subsidiary of Norwegian Air Shuttle. NAI was “Norwegian” in name only, having established itself in Ireland to avoid Norway’s strong labor protections and employing crews on cheap, short-term contracts governed under Singapore law. While NAI has since shuttered its long-haul transatlantic service to the United States, the controversial decision to grant NAI a permit only encourages future opportunistic airlines to continue this race to the bottom in international civil aviation.

“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,” Chair DeFazio said. “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.”

“Looking at the future of aviation and aerospace means improving the nation’s competitiveness in the global market. The bipartisan Fair and Open Skies Act says to the world that the U.S. will not reward countries that break their commitments to protecting working women and men,” Chair Larsen said. “I am proud to support the best aerospace and aviation workforce in the world and ensure the U.S. remains competitive in the international market.”

“The safety of our passengers and airline industry workers is paramount. When foreign airlines serve the United States, they must fly by our rules—including fair labor standards and competition requirements. The bipartisan legislation introduced today ensures that foreign airlines can’t hide behind another country’s flag in order to evade those standards, keeping our skies safer and fairer for everyone.” Vice Chair Davids said.

“Our domestic airline industry has labor regulations and safety standards in place to protect the public and airline workers, including those in my district,” Rep. Conor Lamb (PA-17) said. “This smart bipartisan legislation will protect workers from losing jobs to unfair competition and ensure the airline industry will remain competitive as air travel recovers from the pandemic.”

“As an active commercial airline pilot, I know firsthand the rigorous training and evaluations required of every U.S. pilot, crew member and airline each year to operate within the United States,” Congressman Kaiali'i Kahele (HI-02) said. “The United States prides itself on operating one of the safest aviation systems in the world. Permitting foreign airlines to ignore regulations and labor standards could erode the unprecedented level of safety that currently exists within the American airline community and risk millions of American jobs to unfair competition. I strongly support the Fair and Open Skies Act to ensure that any foreign airline seeking to serve the United States abides by our standards and upholds the integrity of our aviation industry.”

“Our country operates one of the safest aviation systems in the world, yet foreign airlines who operate here are currently not required to follow our country’s safety and industry regulations,” Rep. Rodney Davis (IL-13), who serves as the Ranking Member of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee, said. “Letting foreign airlines skirt regulations or labor standards in their home country only puts American workers and companies at a disadvantage. If a foreign air carrier wants to operate within the United States, then they need to play by the same rules we require of our airlines or they shouldn’t be permitted to operate within our borders.”

“Foreign air carriers are exploiting lax labor laws in other countries and putting American passengers at risk,” Congressman Ferguson said. “This bipartisan legislation will protect American jobs, ensure the safety of the flying public, and stop foreign carriers from circumventing the rules and undercutting their competition.”

“As a commercial airline pilot, I made sure passenger and crew safety on any flight was the number priority,” Rep. Bergman said, “My priorities haven’t changed, which is why I’m proud to support the ‘Fair and Open Skies Act’.”

“America defends and enforces a free and fair marketplace so that workers and businesses are able to compete at a successful rate,” Rep. Bacon said. “Unfortunately, some foreign airlines operating as “flag of convenience” carriers, are avoiding their home countries’ employment, tax, labor, and safety requirements. This bill puts an end to these atypical practices which are undermining labor standards and taking advantage of American workers and trade in North America.”

"I’m pleased to join Reps. DeFazio and Davis as an original co-sponsor on this bipartisan legislation,” Rep. Johnson said. “Foreign airlines absolutely should not be permitted to set up under a ‘flag of convenience’ to undercut American airline companies. This bill would protect our jobs from unfair competition and help ensure passenger safety. Competition is welcome in a global economy, but everyone needs to compete on the same level playing field - and that is not currently the case. The Fair and Open Skies Act would go a long way to retaining jobs and ensuring a strong U.S. aviation industry.”

Organizations supporting the Fair and Open Skies Act are below. Quotes from supporting organizations can be found here.  

  • AFL-CIO;
  • Air Line Pilots Association;
  • Allied Pilots Association;
  • Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association;
  • Association of Flight Attendants-CWA;
  • Association of Professional Flight Attendants;
  • Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations;
  • Communications Workers of America;
  • International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers;
  • International Brotherhood of Teamsters;
  • International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots;
  • NetJets Association of Shared Aircraft Pilots;
  • Southwest Airlines Pilots Association;
  • Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO;
  • Transport Workers Union; and