Norwegian Air Begins London-New York Discount Flight Experiment

Norwegian Air Shuttle AS will begin flying to New York from London’s Gatwick airport today as the Scandinavian discount carrier seeks to establish Europe’s first viable low-cost long-haul operation.

The airline will serve John F. Kennedy airport three times a week from London with one-way fares starting at 149 pounds ($255). Initial flights are almost fully-booked, with strong U.S. demand, Chief Executive Officer Bjoern Kjos said today.

Norwegian Air is leveraging the lower operating costs of Boeing Co.’s all-composite 787 Dreamliner as it bids to turn a profit on trans-Atlantic trips where no-frills carriers such as Laker Airways have failed. The company has faced resistance from U.S. pilots and airlines, as well as glitches with early 787s, though the jet is performing “better and better,” Kjos said.

“They sorted out these software issues that we had,” the CEO said in an interview in London, adding that Fornebu-based Norwegian Air has a “very good” relationship with Boeing.

Plans to provide long-haul flights on an Irish Air Operating Certificate are on hold while the U.S. Department of Transportation mulls an application for a foreign air carrier permit. A largely trans-Atlantic timetable planned for the next two years can be performed under an existing Norwegian license.

‘Political Issue’

“We have fulfilled all the requirements,” Kjos told Bloomberg Television. “This is a political issue and sooner or later they have to comply with the regulations.”

Norwegian Air is embarking on one of the industry’s most ambitious growth plans as it rolls out long-haul flights while swelling its European fleet with 222 mainly re-engined Boeing Co. 737s and Airbus Group NV A320s arriving from 2016.

The Scandinavian carrier will have 17 Dreamliners by 2018, comprising eight 787-8s seating 259 people in coach and 32 in premium economy, together with nine 787-9s that have a longer range and can carry 20 percent more passengers.

The long-haul push is a “valiant effort” but “sub-optimal” because of the number of planes involved, Michael O’Leary, CEO at Ryanair Plc, Europe’s biggest discount airline, said in a television interview.

“We have a plan to do a trans-Atlantic low fares airline, but the difficulty is aircraft availability,” he said. “If I got my hands on forty or fifty Dreamliners I think I would.”