Norwegian Air to Link London Gatwick to New York, Florida

Norwegian Air Shuttle AS will fly to three U.S. cities from Gatwick airport starting next year, expanding the discount carrier’s long-haul reach and restoring links between London’s second-biggest airport and New York.

The airline will add the routes in July, serving New York’s John F. Kennedy airport three times a week and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Los Angeles twice weekly, it said today at a press briefing in London. One-way fares will start at 149 pounds ($240) for New York, 199 pounds for Los Angeles and 179 pounds for Fort Lauderdale, 20 miles north of Miami.

“There’s great demand for high-quality flights at a low fare between the U.K. and the U.S., particularly to and from London Gatwick, where no other airline currently offers these routes,” Chief Executive Officer Bjoern Kjos said.

Norwegian Air is leveraging lower operating costs of Boeing Co.’s all-composite 787 Dreamliner to offer low-price trans-Atlantic trips at a profit in a bid to succeed where long-haul no-frills carriers such as Laker Airways have failed. Profitable discount long-haul operations hinge on having an established short-haul network and the 787, Kjos said, even after technical glitches ranging from brake faults to a cockpit oxygen-supply flaw marred the plane’s entry into the fleet.

“The first aircraft we got has performed marvelously,” the executive said. With “the second one, there have been a lot of small items.”

291 Seats

The twin-aisle Dreamliner’s fuel efficiency and low maintenance requirements make it and the Airbus SAS A350 “the only aircraft suitable” for low-cost long-distance flights, he said. Norwegian Air has configured its 787s with 291 seats.

The airline, which has its headquarters in Fornebu, Norway, ordered 222 Boeing and Airbus short-haul airliners last year valued at 127 billion kroner ($21.4 billion).

It began long-haul operations in May that currently include five weekly services from Stockholm and Oslo to Bangkok and six from the two Nordic cities to New York. A third 787 will join the fleet by the end of this year, another four will enter service in 2014 and an eighth will start flying in 2015.

The new long-distance routes out of Gatwick will expand Norwegian Air’s operations from the current 320 flights a week on 25 routes, Kjos said.

Gatwick Role

By the 2014 summer schedule, the carrier fly 375 weekly connections to 33 destinations from Gatwick. That will include the route to New York, a link the U.K. airport lost after the 2007 Open Skies agreement widening flight access between the U.S. and European Union enabled carriers to switch the services to London Heathrow, the trade bloc’s busiest airport.

“We do have a very strong heritage of people flying to and from Gatwick for many years trans-Atlantic,” Gatwick Chief Executive Officer Stewart Wingate said in an interview. Before 2007, almost 4.1 million passengers flew from the terminal to U.S. destinations, also including Philadelphia and Detroit, compared with 1.32 million today, he said. Current U.S. routes from Gatwick are Orlando and Tampa in Florida, and Las Vegas.

Norwegian Air may open a crew base at Gatwick eventually, Kjos said, adding that the airline has started recruiting flight attendants in New York, with a goal of hiring about 150 people. Other crew bases include Florida with 70 to 100 employees and Bangkok with about 200, he said.

EU Presence

The airline is also applying for a permanent Irish air operator’s certificate as it seeks to establish a low-cost base for its long-haul division. A decision on the application is expected in December or January and may include having a small team of employees based in Ireland, Kjos said.

“It’s only a matter of traffic rights,” the executive said. Basing planes in Ireland, a European Union country, opens up a range of destinations that would otherwise be off limits due to a lack of bilateral agreements with non-EU member Norway, he said. “We need time to get access to the different places we want to fly to.”

Within Europe, Norwegian Air is expanding its short-haul network by adding routes from Gatwick to the Mediterranean islands of Corfu, Cyprus, Santorini and Sicily, and to the Hungarian capital Budapest, while boosting the number of flights on nine existing routes.

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