Norwegian adds first Asian market to London long-haul network

European long-haul, low-cost operator Norwegian is known to be exploring markets in Asia to expand its business formula to the East. It previously only served Bangkok out of Scandinavia, but has now confirmed a London Gatwick - Singapore link, and more routes are set to follow as additional Boeing 787s join the fleet.

European long-haul, low-cost carrier Norwegian is to launch a new route from its London Gatwick base to Singapore later this year as the airline’s growing UK network expands into Asia for the first time. From September 28, 2017, Norwegian will operate four weekly flights, increasing to five in the winter, from London Gatwick to Singapore Changi Airport using a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner configured with 344 seats across economy and Premium cabins.

As one of the world’s leading centres for financial services, logistics and technology, Norwegian’s new route to Singapore opens up new opportunities for business and leisure travellers and access to the wider access Asia-Pacific. Norwegian says it will offer UK passengers an “affordable way” to access the cosmopolitan ‘Lion City’.

Norwegian’s long-haul network from London is exclusively link to destinations across the Atlantic, in fact its entire long-haul network is currently US-centric, with Bangkok the only destination served in Asia and then only from the Nrodic and Scandinavian capitals of Oslo and Stockholm.

The budget airline offers flights from London Gatwick to nine US destinations including newly announced new routes to Seattle and Denver. With a huge aircraft order and new traffic rights in place, the new Singapore route marks the first step in Norwegian’s ambitions to expand its existing long-haul network into an increasing number of destinations.

“Our transatlantic flights have shown the huge demand for affordable long-haul travel, so we are delighted to expand into new markets and offer our first route to Asia from the UK,” said Bjorn Kjos, chief executive officer, Norwegian. “Travel should be affordable for all so adding Singapore to our growing UK network will give passengers even more choice for affordable, quality travel to a range of global destinations.”

Norwegian confirms that the UK is “at the heart” of its ambitious plans for growth, which will also see long-haul flights starting from Edinburgh this summer using its new 737MAX-8 aircraft, taking advantage of the modern airliner to deliver sustainable long-haul travel on a single-aisle platform. This link to Singapore will be the first long-haul route to take to the skies under its ‘Norwegian UK’ (NUK) subsidiary.

NUK was established in 2015 to give the airline a stronger foothold in the UK market, and allow it to access bilateral traffic rights to a series of new markets in Asia, Africa and South America. It is headquartered at London Gatwick, and will use British-registered Dreamliner aircraft and Gatwick-based crew to operate the new services.

The airline carried 5.2 million UK passengers last year from four UK airports (London Gatwick, Edinburgh, Birmingham and Manchester airports), to more than 50 global destinations. It is the third largest airline at London Gatwick, handling over 4.6 million annual passengers.

The new Singapore link will operate with a split schedule to maximise passenger demand and support aircraft utilisation. Flights initially will operate from London at 10:30 on Monday and Thursday at 22:30 on Tuesday and Sunday. The return flights will operate from Singapore on Tuesday and Friday mornings and late night on Wednesday and Sunday.

“These new direct flights between two of the world's top three financial centres will be welcome news for business travellers, particularly at a time when global trade is increasingly important for the UK economy. Singapore is also a key tourist destination and gateway hub for long-haul travellers looking to venture further into Southeast Asia and Australia,” said Stewart Wingate, chief executive officer, Gatwick Airport.

The Singapore – London market is served non-stop by British Airways (BA) and Singapore Airlines into London Heathrow, while Garuda Indonesia also serves the market with a Changi stopover on its outbound flights to the UK from Jakarta. BA currently operates two flights per day and Singapore Airlines four, with half of the total flights flown using Airbus A380 equipment (BA once daily; Singapore Airlines twice daily).

In 2016, the estimated bi-directional O&D market between London Heathrow and Singapore Changi was around 625,000 passengers with Singapore Airlines holding a 51.3 per cent share of the demand ahead of British Airways (24.1 per cent). Alongside the direct flows there are also significant indirect flows via third points with Emirates Airline carrying around 52 PPDEW (passenger per day each way) between the two airports, Qatar Airways 33 PPDEW and Qantas 18 PPDEW.

Our analysis shows the point-to-point local traffic between London Heathrow and Singapore Changi accounts for around half of all passengers flying with the airlines between the two airports and shows how transfer traffic supports the strategies of BA and Singapore Airlines in the market. Norwegian will mainly support the local demand, but will likely work with partner carriers to also provide feed at both ends of the route as part of its developing transfer model.