Britain urges U.S. regulators to permit Norwegian Air UK flights

BERLIN (Reuters) - The British government has urged U.S. regulators to allow budget carrier Norwegian Air Shuttle's British subsidiary to operate services to the United States, despite opposition from unions and other airlines.

Europe's third-biggest budget carrier by passengers wants to base more long-haul operations in Britain to increase efficiency and operational flexibility.

However, U.S. regulators have not yet made a decision on whether to allow the British subsidiary to fly to the United States, after objections were raised by U.S. unions, the European pilots' union and some rival carriers.

Norwegian currently flies to the United States from Britain on its Norwegian operating licence, but last year gained a UK operating licence that would allow it to fly to Asia, South America and South Africa and wants the UK unit to offer services to the United States as well.

Britain's Director General for Civil Aviation Patricia Hayes wrote to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), calling for Norwegian's application to be approved, saying it is in accordance with the terms of the Open Skies air traffic agreement between the European Union and the United States.

"We urge the DOT to fully discharge the United States' international obligations in this regard and to grant (Norwegian Air UK) authorisation to operate forthwith," Hayes said in the letter, published on the DOT's website.

Norwegian, which uses fuel-efficient Dreamliner planes to keep costs and fares low, has had to postpone a new service from Cork, Ireland, to the United States, also due to a delay in U.S. regulatory approval.

Hayes said U.S. approvals for other European carriers have typically taken around 53 days, while Norwegian applied more than 60 days ago.

Unions have objected to Norwegian's use of some staff on long-haul routes being employed under Asian, not European contracts, and, backed by rival carriers such as SAS and Air France-KLM, have called for clarity on how Norwegian plans to staff services to the United States.

A spokesman for Norwegian said it welcomed the UK government support, and added that all current and future employees at its UK bases have contracts governed by UK employment law.

(Reporting by Victoria Bryan; Editing by Susan Fenton)