Norwegian Air has plans for South America
Norwegian Air Shuttle intends to base 10 Boeing 737s in Argentina by end of the year
Bjorn Kjos, chief executive of Norwegian Air Shuttle, which will fly from Ireland to the US in July. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times
Irish-registered Norwegian Air International will begin to fly from Ireland to the US east coast from July, including the first transatlantic service from Cork, which will serve Providence, Rhode Island.
Over the weekend, Mr Kjos confirmed that the group, Norwegian Air Shuttle, also has plans to expand in South America. It intends to base 10 Boeing 737s in Argentina by the end of this year and will serve domestic routes there.
It has applied for an air operator’s certificate – an airline licence – in the country. Mr Kjos indicated that the group was optimistic that the authorities would grant the permit.
It is likely that some of the group’s 85 Irish staff will work on branding and marketing its South American carrier.
The aviation industry believes South America’s potential for growth has yet to be tapped. A number of players, including the Ryan family’s Irlandia, are investing in carriers in the region.
Mr Kjos’s group intends to use its Irish-registered subsidiary to fly low-cost, long-haul services between Europe and the US.
From early 2014 to February, it fought a three-year battle to get permission to fly to the US, and plans to launch some of its initial services from Belfast, Cork, Dublin and Shannon this summer.
Its original application to Washington’s department of transportation for a foreign air carrier’s permit met opposition from US labour unions, which claimed that it was using its Irish company to get around employment law protections.
Norwegian denied this. Crews operating from its bases in US airports recently joined the International Association of Machinists, one of America’s biggest aerospace industry unions.
Mr Kjos said that most of the airline group’s workers were unionised but was not sure if the move would help ease the remaining opposition to Norwegian’s expansion in the US. He pointed out that the carrier still faces “a lot of protectionism” in the US.
Contribution to aviation
He was in Dublin to receive an award for his contribution to aviation at a gala ball organised by the Irish Aviation Authority at the weekend.
Bookings for the Irish-US flights were strong when they launched in February, and Mr Kjos said that interest in the services had continued since.
“There are still fairly low fares, compared to some other airlines, so they are selling very well,” he said. “We are looking at other destinations, but we have not decided on any yet, but first of all we would like to add more frequencies.”
Mr Kjos predicted that this would be in early summer 2018, as the airline does not have the craft needed to boost the number of flights on its existing routes.