- First routes will be from Ireland to New York, Boston
- Carrier will lease out A320s, in talks on Ryanair partnership
Norwegian Air Shuttle AS will use single-aisle Boeing Co. 737 jets to connect smaller European airports with the eastern U.S., complementing busier North American routes out of London and Scandinavia that are operated by bigger 787 Dreamliners.
The latest 737 Max, which joins the fleet from 2017, has the range to fly from Europe’s “western coast” to most locations on the Atlantic seaboard of the U.S., Chief Executive Officer Bjoern Kjos said in an interview before announcing the first flights, from Cork in Ireland to New York and Boston.
“That’s going to be very interesting, because you fly direct so people don’t have to travel via hubs,” Kjos said in Oslo. “We believe that there is a large market.” Norwegian Air shares rose as much as 4.7 percent.
Already a major discount carrier within Europe, Norwegian is working to extend the model to long-haul flights. While low-cost inter-continental travel proved unsustainable for companies such as Laker Airways in the past, Kjos is betting a new generation of fuel-efficient planes will make the service viable.
Norwegian has 100 re-engined Max variants of the 737 on order from a 222-plane, $21.5 billion deal with Boeing and Airbus Group SE announced in 2012. The Cork-Boston service will commence next May and will initially be operated by current-version 737-800 aircraft, with New York following in 2017. The routes will provide the Irish city’s only trans-Atlantic links.
The carrier also has 17 Dreamliners due by 2018, of which eight are already in the fleet. Kjos said he’s holding off on a possible follow-on order while awaiting a foreign carrier permit from the U.S., where airlines and unions have queried the legitimacy of plans to register jets in Ireland to cut costs.
The CEO said the permit is needed before Norwegian can start “full-scale” flying with the 787 fleet, since aircraft that might operate routes to Canada, South America or South Africa would ultimately also serve U.S. destinations.
“They have to fly in a combination because of the utilization of the aircraft,” Kjos said. “It’s long overdue.”
The CEO also confirmed that talks are under way on cooperation with Ryanair Holdings Plc, Europe’s biggest discount carrier, that could see the Irish company help feed passenger’s onto Norwegian’s long-haul flights “from every corner of Europe.” A deal could be concluded “shortly,” he said.
Fornebu-based Norwegian is stepping up plans to lease out a chunk of the 100 Airbus A320neos it also has on order, having already arranged to place 12 with third parties, the first four in 2016, Kjos said.
Shares of Norwegian Air advanced 15.20 kroner to 341.40 kroner before trading 4.4 percent higher at 340.40 kroner at 2:07 p.m. in Oslo. They’ve gained 24 percent this year, for a market value of 12.2 billion kroner ($1.4 billion).