Low-cost airline Norwegian is celebrating its fifth anniversary of long-haul operations from London Gatwick to the United States.
Since launching its transatlantic services in 2014, Norwegian has carried almost 5 million passengers on 8,500 flights between Gatwick and the US. The airline’s first route was to Los Angeles on 2 July 2014, quickly followed by routes to New York JFK and Fort Lauderdale the same week.
Norwegian, which was voted Skytrax Best Low-Cost Long-Haul airline in 2019, now operates to 11 US cities, in addition to Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro, the latter of which launched just a few months ago.
In a statement, Norwegian chief executive officer, Bjørn Kjos, said: “We saw an opportunity five years ago to bring low-cost long-haul to London and led the disruption of the transatlantic market. Since then, many carriers have been forced to lower fares to compete with us, which proves we have unlocked a viable market.”
Changing the face of long-haul travel
Norwegian’s rapid growth at Gatwick has been a cause of concern for British Airways in particular, which up until 2014 had a large control over transatlantic traffic from the London airport. The airline responded to the threat by launching its own services to the likes of New York JFK and Oakland, routes which had previously only been served by Norwegian.
Norwegian’s long-haul presence at Gatwick is one factor which contributed to British Airways densifying its Gatwick-based 777s and unpackaging fares in an attempt to remain competitive. BA owner IAG even went as far as to attempt to take over Norwegian, though it appears that, for now, the company has no further plans to buy out the airline.
Despite Norwegian’s success, the low-cost long-haul market is one which has typically been difficult to survive in, with airlines often unable to deal with the challenges of sustaining effective low-cost long-haul operations.
Indeed, the past twelve months have seen the bankruptcies of WOW air and Primera Air, and even Norwegian’s seemingly impressive growth is dampened by disappointing margins. Last year, the airline made losses of £136 million, and the grounding of its fleet of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft earlier this year led to a further loss of nearly £50 million.
Norwegian is currently attempting a strategy to return to profitability, including a cost reduction programme, the sale of aircraft, and an improved route structure. It is unknown whether these measures will be enough, though regardless, the fact remains clear: if Norwegian is to survive going forward it will need to cut its losses and return to profitability. Otherwise, it risks a similar fate to the many airlines that have come before it.