Budget carrier Norwegian has this week announced details of its latest long-haul European base with transatlantic flights launching to five destinations in the United States of America from June 2017. Airports from across Europe continue to pitch in a competitive battle to make use of the carrier’s ever increasing Boeing 787 Dreamliner fleet, but on this occasion it is Barcelona that has come out the winner.
The expanding low-fare carrier will base two 787-8s at El Prat Airport in the Catalan city from next summer launching flights to Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles, New York and Oakland. The first aircraft will inaugurate long-haul flights from June 5, 2017 with the second enabling growth to 12 weekly return flights from August 22, 2017 – four times weekly to Newark, three times weekly to Los Angeles and Oakland and twice weekly to Fort Lauderdale.
Norwegian will directly compete with United Airlines on the Barcelona – Newark market as well as indirectly with American Airlines and Delta Air Lines into New York. It will be the only scheduled operator on the other three city pairs, albeit American Airlines will provide indirect competition into Florida via its Miami flights. Norwegian will also be the sole carrier to link Spain to the San Francisco Bay area via its flights into Oakland International Airport.
“The launch of direct flights between Barcelona and the United States is a new milestone for Norwegian,” said Bjorn Kjos, chief executive officer, Norwegian. “Spain is an important market for us where we have been very well received since its inception.”
Norwegian has been growing steadily in the Spanish market and now has seven bases across the country, over 1,000 employees and an extensive network covering domestic and short-haul international routes. It has served the Catalan city since 2008 and opened its short-haul base at El Prat Airport in 2014.
After initially linking Barcelona to Moss Airport, Rygge from February 2008, Norwegian expanded its offer before the end of the following year to comprise flights from the main international gateways into Copenhagen, Oslo and Stockholm.
Other points across the Nordic region and Scandinavia including Bergen, Gothenburg and Helsinki were added to the Barcelona network over subsequent years. London became the first destination outside the region to be served from April 2013, ahead of the opening of a local base and new flights to Germany, Poland from 2014.
Norwegian’s peak summer Barcelona schedule now includes more than 120 weekly departures from Barcelona offering almost 23,000 seats in each direction. Its network now encompasses 21 destinations across ten different countries and it is now the fifth largest short-haul operator from El Prat Airport with a 3.6% share of departure seats, according to OAG Schedules Analyser data.
Norwegian launched its first long-haul flights in 2013 between Oslo and New York and shortly thereafter between Stockholm and New York. As the company has phased out more new Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the number of transcontinental flights has increased as the airline’s intercontinental strategy has taken shape. Adding to its Dreamliner flights from Scandinavia (which also includes Copenhagen), long-haul links have also been introduced from London from 2014 and from August this year from Paris.
The airline now operates 42 routes between Stockholm, Oslo, Copenhagen, London, Paris, Barcelona and the United States and currently offers more routes between Europe and the United States than any other European airline serving nine destinations in the United States: New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Fort Lauderdale, Las Vegas, Orlando, Boston, Puerto Rico and St. Croix. Its Americas network also includes winter flying from the French Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe to Boston, New York and Baltimore / Washington and from Guadeloupe to Fort Lauderdale.
But after Scandinavia, London, Paris and now Barcelona, where will be next for Norwegian’s long-haul growth? Norwegian has led the way in utilising the performance of the 787 to develop a successful low-cost long-haul operation and the recent addition of 787-9s to its fleet will enable it to grow its route structure, while providing more range and capacity.
“Future growth and competiveness in the long-haul market depends on the fuel-efficient, state-of-the art 787 Dreamliner. Not least, the Dreamliner offers the best passenger experience,” said Kjos.
The airline currently has a North American focus for its 787 long-haul operations with the Thailand capital, Bangkok, the only market outside of the Americas to be served by the carrier with flights from Copenhagen, Oslo and Stockholm.
The current long-haul strategy for the 787 fleet is underpinned by routes into popular leisure markets and those easily stimulated by its low-fare offering. These include New York (via JFK and now Newark), Los Angeles, San Francisco (via Oakland) and Miami (via Fort Lauderdale). The airline is also able to secure some business traffic on these routes to boost its yield and has shown it is not concerned with going head-to-head with long-standing legacy operators that are already well established.
But it is not all about O&D traffic and the airline’s expansive short- and medium-haul network across Europe and into North Africa and the Middle East can also provide feed into the long-haul markets. “The Scandinavian and European route networks play an increasingly important role in our long-haul strategy, as many of our passengers use connecting flights with Norwegian,” added Kjos.
A new dimension to its long-haul network will be the utilisation of smaller single-aisle airliners on thinner routes as advancements in aircraft technology mean a range envelope that can open up new Transatlantic city pair markets, as per Norwegian’s plan to fly between Cork in the Republic of Ireland and Boston.
The airline is the European launch customer for Boeing new generation 737MAX family and has committed to acquire 100 aircraft as part of a January 2012 deal which was the biggest ever single order placed in Europe for Boeing equipment, valued at $11.4 billion at list prices.
“In 2017 we, as the European launch customer of Boeing, start taking deliveries of the new 737MAX, then additional routes to the East Coast of the US will be launched, offering direct transatlantic connections to new smaller cities and communities on both sides of the Atlantic carrying additional millions of passengers per year between the two continents,” Kjos has stated.
Looking more closely at Norwegian’s summer short-haul programme in Europe you can start to get a picture of possible future Dreamliner long-haul bases. With the exception of London, Barcelona is the carrier’s largest network point outside of the Nordic and Scandinavian region and biggest point in Spain. The airline has a strong presence in other European capitals such as Helsinki (800,000 departure seats), Berlin (305,000 seats) and Rome (276,000 seats) and a growing offer from the likes of Budapest, Edinburgh, Manchester, Prague and Tenerife, all markets that have been suggested for possible long-haul expansion. However, with the impending 737MAX arrival many other markets will now also be on the Norwegian network radar.