Norwegian Air Shuttle founder Bjørn Kjos has not lost confidence in the long-haul low-cost business model despite his former venture’s retreat to a small, short-haul airline as it struggled to overcome a too-rapid expansion, too much debt, and Covid-19. Kjos, 74, on Monday emerged as a 15 percent investor in Norse Atlantic Airways, a new Oslo-based airline that will offer low-cost transatlantic services later this year, along with other former Norwegian Air Shuttle executives, including Bjørn Kise.
Kise participated in the founding of Norwegian Air Shuttle in 1993 and served as chairman from 2010 to 2019. Both Kise and Kjos, which at that time were Norwegian Air Shuttle’s largest shareholders, stepped down in May and July 2019, respectively. Kjos, a former fighter pilot, held the role of CEO for 17 years and built the company from a small domestic operation with 130 employees and four aircraft to a global LCC with more than 11,000 employees and 162 aircraft. Norwegian Air Shuttle now operates under the equivalent of U.S. Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in Ireland and Norway.
Norse Atlantic Airways plans to launch flights between Europe and the U.S. in December using Boeing 787s. “We now have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build a brand-new airline from scratch,” CEO, founder, and majority shareholder Bjørn Tore Larsen said in a statement. “As the world reopens, the public needs an innovative, low-cost intercontinental airline with modern, more environmentally friendly and fuel-efficient aircraft.” He stressed the company secured Dreamliners “at very good terms.” The airline plans to lease the aircraft, which would feature a “high cabin utilization.” Norse Atlantic Airways did not immediately respond to questions from AIN about fleet size and whether the 787s are former Norwegian aircraft. Larsen also maintained close ties with Norwegian Air Shuttle as co-founder of OSM Aviation, which provided crew to the airline.
The route network will initially span popular transatlantic destinations such as New York, Los Angeles, Miami, London, Paris, and Oslo. The airline also plans to expand with destinations in Asia as more 787s enter the fleet, it stated, emphasizing, however, that it would base growth decisions “exclusively” on demand and profitability. “International tourism has been hit hard by the pandemic, and the market for intercontinental flights is currently almost gone,” said Larsen. “But a new era is coming as the global vaccine program is completed. People will once again go on vacation, visit friends and family, and travel for business. Norse Atlantic Airways will be there to offer attractive and affordable flights to the leisure traveler and the cost-conscious business traveler.”
The company will be listed on Euronext Growth on the Oslo Stock Exchange in April, backed by investors who have already secured shares valued at $24 million.