Norse Atlantic Airways founder and CEO Bjørn Tore Larsen told a Washington DC audience that the Norway-based startup, which plans to operate low-fares Boeing 787 transatlantic flights, will be able to succeed where Norwegian Air Shuttle failed because its business model will be much more focused.
“We are not Norwegian, let’s start with that,” Larsen said when answering questions following a luncheon address to the International Aviation Club of Washington.
Norwegian, after much fanfare over its low-cost long-haul network, exited long-haul flying in January 2021 to focus on short-haul services within Norway and to “key European destinations.” The carrier grounded its 37 787s.
Larsen said he was able to convince lessors to lease 15 of those grounded 787s to Norse, giving it the fleet needed to launch operations–the startup is expected to begin flying in the second quarter.
Explaining the difference between Norwegian and Norse, Larsen said: “We are a lean and focused operator that will do one thing only: flying long-haul … We’re going to focus on one particular thing [rather than operating both short- and long-haul networks]. We don’t think anyone else is operating in this niche.”
That niche, he explained, will be operating low-fares transatlantic flights to mostly secondary US airports, including Fort Lauderdale (FLL)–where Norse’s main flight attendant base will be located–and New York Stewart (SWF). “We don’t have a fancy first- or business-class with lie-flat seats and caviar,” Larsen said.
Norse received its air operator’s certificate (AOC) from Norway’s civil aviation authority Luftfartstilsynet in December and was cleared in January by the US Transportation Department (DOT) to launch scheduled commercial operations between Europe and the US.
Initial flights will be from Oslo (OSL), and Norse will be allowed to offer routes between any point in Norway, the European Union and the European Common Aviation Area to any destination in the US. Larsen said Norse is now seeking a UK AOC so that it can fly between the London market and the US.
“We’re on a good track to get that AOC in the next few months,” he added.
Larsen acknowledged the transatlantic market is still recovering from the steep drop in demand driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, but he believes now is the time to begin flying between Europe and the US. “There’s never been a better time to start an airline,” he said. “This is the time you can get good bargains [on aircraft and airport charges]. If we wait until the market is back, it will be too late.”
He added that there is pent-up demand and Norse’s model will enable passengers who wouldn’t be able to otherwise afford to fly transatlantic to travel between Europe and the US–also a key claim made by Norwegian prior to launching low-cost transatlantic service in May 2013. Within 1-2 years, Larsen believes there will be a shortage of capacity across the Atlantic.
Another key difference between Norse and Norwegian, Larsen said, is that the former will ramp up operations slowly and be cautious about growing its fleet. The startup will begin operations with just two or three of its 787s, Larsen explained, and will gradually add the remaining 12-13 aircraft into service.
Larsen said he will be reluctant to grow the fleet beyond 15 787s. “I’d rather run the business with 15 aircraft than go double or nothing and end up with nothing,” he explained.
The Norse founder said the airline will start ticket sales in March and operate its first scheduled flight by the end of June.