Norwegian Unfazed by New Long-haul, Low-cost Competition

 - August 29, 2017, 9:52 AM
Norwegian last month began transatlantic services using Boeing 737 Max 8s. (Photo: Boeing)

As it expands its network of low-cost long-haul scheduled services, Norwegian professes a lack of concern about growing competition from IAG subsidiary Level on services from Barcelona, Air France’s new unit Joon on flights from Paris and—from 2018—Latvia-headquartered Primera Air on routes from London and Paris to Boston and New York.

“Recently we’ve seen direct competition from IAG’s Level and now also Air France’s Joon. Level’s new routes have not affected our booking figures.Instead, they are creating awareness of low-cost long-haul travel, which is good for us all,” Anders Lindström, Norwegian’s U.S. director of communications, told AIN. “We welcome competition, as it’s good for the consumer. And travelers get more choice.”

The competition will increase as Wow Air, Aer Lingus, Air Transat and others receive Airbus A321neos and A321LRs, the latter model specifically designed to operate transatlantic and other long-haul routes, while other carriers take delivery of Boeing 737 Max 8s. But last month Norwegian itself became the first carrier to operate 737 Max 8s on transatlantic routes and, in extolling the virtues of single-aisle aircraft for secondary long-haul routes, provided a strong hint that the 30 A321LRs it has on order will offer new routes linking additional European and U.S. cities.

“We never considered launching long-haul operations before the 787 became available,” said Lindström. “But it’s a large aircraft that is too big for certain markets, where both the A321[LR] and Max come in and open up new market opportunities. The twelve new transatlantic routes that became a reality once we had the Max would not be possible otherwise. And with the A321LR, we can extend the range and fly even further, which means reaching more cities in the U.S. and more cities across Europe.”

Norwegian expects its first A321LR to enter its fleet in 2019, meaning it will likely announce plans and routes in the second half of next year, said Lindström. “Considering they will have a longer range than the Boeing 737 Max…[the A321LR] opens up a plethora of opportunities, both in terms of new transatlantic routes, but also out of Europe to, for instance, Asia and other regions.”

Norwegian awaits final U.S. DOT approval for its Norwegian UK (NUK) aircraft operator’s certificate (AOC). The AOC, which Norwegian soon will use to operate long-haul UK-Asia flights, is its fourth overall and the third under which it would operate flights to the U.S., along with the Norwegian Air Shuttle AOC under which it operates all its U.S. Boeing 787 flights and the Norwegian Air International AOC it uses to fly all its U.S. Boeing 737 Max schedules.

Lindström explained that until Norwegian obtains U.S. approval for its NUK AOC it cannot use the same 787, for instance, from London to New York to London and then onwards to either Singapore or Buenos Aires. “Once the DOT has approved NUK, however, we can fully utilize the fleet,” he said. “All other European airlines can already fly all their planes both east and west, whereas we cannot—and it is of course limiting us.”

Norwegian won’t say which U.S. routes Norwegian UK would operate under the NUK AOC, nor will it confirm whether it plans to expand its UK-U.S. network. Lindström did say the airline sees great potential for expanding its long-haul service out of the UK, both from London and elsewhere. However, Norwegian Air Shuttle already operates services from Belfast, Birmingham and Manchester to Europe and the latter two airports already serve as established intercontinental gateways.