Norwegian poised for major expansion

Norwegian B737

After three years of waiting, Norwegian Air Shuttle says it will be announcing new service between cities in the United States and Europe sometime in early February, just days after its authority to offer flights between the United States and Europe through its Irish subsidiary becomes permanent.
That is, unless the Trump administration moves to ground those plans between now and then.

“We plan to announce the U.S. and European destinations for Norwegian’s 737 transatlantic operation in early February,” said Norwegian spokesperson Réal Hamilton-Romeo.

The announcement, which will be made jointly with Norwegian’s UK public relations team, will include a press release (global and regional), as well as press events in a couple of the newly announced destinations.

It’s taken more than three years for the low-cost carrier to win permanent recognition from the U.S. Department of Transportation that its Irish subsidiary – Norwegian Air International – is a legitimate carrier based in a member of the European Union and therefore eligible to provide flights to and from the United States from EU nations under the Open Skies Agreement.

“Norwegian fought for its legal right to obtain traffic rights for its Irish subsidiary, Norwegian Air International, to operate flights to and from the US – regardless of destination on either side of the Atlantic,” said Hamilton-Romeo.

U.S. carriers had opposed granting Norwegian EU status, arguing that Norwegian is merely engaging in a subterfuge that will allow it to hire lower-cost aircrews from Asia, costing Americans jobs and setting off a race to the bottom for airline employee wages.

While Norwegian denies the allegations, U.S. carriers and labor unions are hoping their arguments will find a receptive ear in the Trump White House.

A group of airline pilots was scheduled to rally outside the White House on Tuesday (24 January), asking Mr. Trump to intervene and reverse the ruling by the former Obama administration.

“Norwegian’s permit will go into full force on the 29th of January, so it’s easier to stop something before it starts,” said Chip Hancock, governmental affairs chairman with the Southwest Airlines Pilots’ Association.

“We’re trying every avenue we can to raise the president’s awareness.”

Norwegian denies the allegations.

“There is no validity whatsoever to our opponents’ claims that Norwegian’s expansion will lead to fewer American jobs, as the real facts show the complete opposite,” Norwegian Air director of communications Anders Lindström said in a statement. “We have more U.S.-based cabin crew than any foreign airline, and we continue to create more American jobs than any foreign airline. This year alone, we will be the only foreign airline to recruit American pilots as we will open up several new pilot and cabin crew bases in the United States.”

And its not just ultra-low fares, with fares between New York and Edinburgh, Scotland, possibly as low as $69 one-way, that has unsettled the transatlantic aviation market.

Norwegian says it will provide its new service from Stewart International Airport, about 70 miles, and an hour and 45 minutes north of New York City, and either Portsmouth International Airport in New Hampshire or T.F. Green Airport near Providence, R.I., both about 60 miles or one hour north and south respectively of Boston.

A spokesman for Green refused to confirm that Norwegian would soon provide service there.

For these flights, Norwegian will use Boeing’s new, highly efficient 737 MAX aircraft, which has a range long enough to permit transatlantic flights. Each aircraft carries 189 passengers.

“We fly extremely modern aircraft,” Bjørn Kjos, Norwegian’s chief executive officer, recently told the Financial Times. “That’s the key with cost in long-haul.”

Rather than abandoning its current Boeing Dreamliner service from major cities, including Boston, New York, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Los Angeles, Norwegian says its new 737 service offers “a unique opportunity to utilize direct-from-the-factory aircraft, offer extremely low fares, all while continuing to grow our long-haul market.”

“Additionally, this aircraft type makes smaller airports more attractive as they are better equipped to handle this aircraft size,” according to Hamilton-Romeo.

Hamilton-Romeo added, however, “Boston is a very important destination in Norwegian’s long-term expansion plans – as are the UK and Ireland. This is not changing.”

Nor does the airline appear worried that its additional service, along with new flights being offered by low-cost competitors WOW from Iceland or Condor from Germany will exceed market demand, particularly in small markets.

“We are giving more people the opportunity to fly internationally at an affordable price,” said Hamilton-Romeo. “These smaller airports attract customers from neighboring regions that were a bit too far from some of our current major airports. If anything, we will see our transatlantic operation continue to grow with the flights on these 737 transatlantic routes and the flights on our Boeing Dreamliner routes.”

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