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Airline unions lobby to halt Norwegian Air's long-haul plans

OSLO, Feb 5 (Reuters) - Airline unions and pilots groups asked European and U.S. authorities on Wednesday to deny Norwegian Air Shuttle's request for a new long-haul license, accusing the budget carrier of trying to avoid taxes and skirt labour laws.

Norwegian this year became the only European budget airline to launch long-haul operations, flying to North America and Asia from the Nordics with its new Boeing 787 Dreamliners.

It now plans to register the operation in Ireland and keep using Thai crew along with some American staff.

Labour groups including the transportation sector of AFL-CIO and the Air Line Pilots Association International argued that the plans are intended to take advantage of regulatory loopholes and leave safety oversight in doubt.

"This setup will deny the workers their fundamental rights, the freedom to assemble, the freedom to collectively bargain," Lee Moak, the president of the Air Line Pilots Association International told a news conference in Oslo after meeting with Norwegian officials.

He added that the plan would give the carrier an unfair economic advantage over other European and U.S. airlines.

Describing the claims as false, Norwegian's spokeswoman Anne-Sissel Skaanvik said: "We follow all the laws and regulations in all the markets we operate in and we offer competitive wages to all of our employees."

Attempts to fly cheap long-haul routes date back to the 1970s, when Laker Airways flew from London to New York. It went bankrupt in 1982 when rivals cut fares and squeezed it out of the market.

Norwegian started flying on relatively uncompetitive routes such as between Oslo and Fort Lauderdale, but now plans to launch a London-New York service.

It said it can afford to undercut its rivals, sometimes by 20 to 40 percent, due to the Dreamliner's 20 percent lower operating costs.

The Irish Aviation Authority rejected any suggestion it was not capable of oversight. "The IAA already provides safety regulation of Ryanair to the highest international standards," it said.