Norwegian Surges After U.S. Approves Trans-Atlantic Expansion

Updated on
  • Stock gains most since 2015 after approval of Irish license
  • Opponents say plan creates ‘flag of convenience’ to slash pay
Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA jumped the most since April 2015 after winning U.S. regulatory approval for an expansion of low-cost flights across the Atlantic that’s opposed by American carriers, unions and politicians alike.

Shares of Norwegian Air rose as much as 14 percent on their first day of trading since the Department of Transportation concluded Friday that the company’s Ireland-based Norwegian Air International arm is fit to serve U.S. destinations.

The decision opens the door to “more flights and more jobs on both sides of the Atlantic,” Norwegian Air spokesman Anders Lindstrom said. Critics of the plan say the Irish unit will amount to a “flag of convenience” that permits the group to unfairly slash costs by tapping Irish labor laws to outsource employment contracts beyond Europe.

Norwegian’s Chief Executive Officer Bjorn Kjos has indicated that it will add routes such as Cork to the U.S. using its Irish air operator certificate, though opponents say the Fornebu, Norway-based company could perform the same flights under existing accords.

Lowering costs is a key consideration for the carrier as it seek to survive in a trans-Atlantic market where no-frills predecessors such as Laker Airways failed. The introduction of Boeing Co.’s 787 carbon fiber jetliner to the fleet has already delivered a step change in operating expenses, with fuel burn reduced by as much as 20 percent compared with older planes.}

Delta Squeezed

Increased competition on trans-Atlantic routes has hurt some established carriers, with Delta Air Lines Inc. blaming low-cost rivals for a slump in third-quarter earnings from the traditionally lucrative market and saying it will need to evaluate some services in the longer term.

The DoT decision undermines legal protections for airline workers, according to the Association of Flight Attendants, the largest U.S. cabin crew union, which called on President Barack Obama to use his executive powers to reverse the ruling. The Air Line Pilots Association said separately that the approval was “an affront to fair competition” that would cause U.S. job losses.

In April, U.S. regulators gave a tentative nod to the application. When final approval didn’t immediately follow, the European Union’s executive arm triggered an arbitration case in July to push for a ruling.

Norwegian Air pledged in its application to abide by hiring and employment practices, according to the DoT, which said the case was among its “most novel and complex,” adding: “Regardless of our appreciation of the public policy arguments raised by opponents, we have been advised that the law and our bilateral obligations leave us no avenue to reject this application.”

Norwegian said the impact of the decision “will not be immediately visible” since existing trans-Atlantic operations, including those from London Gatwick, are performed using a license from its home country. It reiterated that it aims to have a 42-plane long-haul jets by the end of the decade, though Kjos has said more could be ordered in response to a green light on the Irish plan.

Shares of Norwegian Air were trading at 295.30 kroner as of 3:45 a.m. in Oslo, narrowing their decline this year to 8.7 percent and valuing the business art 10.6 billion kroner ($1.26 billion).

— With assistance by Michael Sasso, and Alan Levin

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