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Norwegian will not resume any long haul flights at London Gatwick.
The airline confirmed today, Thursday 14 January 2021, that it will not operate any long haul flights again.
Norwegian plans yet another financial restructuring to shore up its balance sheet and reduce its debt levels. It will continue to operate short haul flights in Europe with around 50 narrow body aircraft this year.
Given Norwegian entered COVID-19 in a parlous financial state, there was an inevitability to this. That said, this is one of the most high profile casualties of COVID-19.
Under the leadership of its founder and former CEO, the ebullient Bjørn Kjos, Norwegian planned to revolutionise long haul flying.
Over the past seven years it had built up, at a very rapid pace and through an extraordinarily complicated corporate structure, a substantial long haul network at London Gatwick, principally to North America, but also to destinations in Asia and Latin America. It had plans for further transatlantic expansion at Gatwick with the Airbus A321 Long Range aircraft.
Norwegian’s rapid expansion did have its teething problems – principally the lack of back up during disruption – but it did win plaudits for its modern fleet and “Premium” cabin.
The rapid expansion clearly got to BA. It embarked on a “densification” of its Boeing 777 fleet, briefly matched Norwegian on routes such as Fort Lauderdale and Oakland and, with many other airlines, started unbundling long haul fares.
Its parent company, IAG, also attempted to buy the airline and then set up its own low cost long haul airline LEVEL to get ahead of Norwegian launching flights at Barcelona.
This development is clearly bad news for Gatwick. Virgin Atlantic has already consolidated operations at Heathrow. BA is operating a limited schedule and is unlikely to restart overlapping long haul routes such as Las Vegas and New York at Gatwick. It will also result in the loss of more than 1,000 jobs in the UK.
There is also the question of what will happen to Norwegian’s long haul fleet. Before COVID-19, it had around 37 Boeing 787 aircraft. Its lessors will eventually have find a new home for them.
Whilst BA and others will be relieved to see a reduction of competitor capacity, this is problematic for its joint business with American Airlines. This is still under review by the Competition & Markets Authority. It will have to reassess its impact in light of the reduction of competitor capacity.