The Irish Times view on Norwegian Air pulling transatlantic flights: A blow for customers

Norwegian's problems might explain why Ryanair has never gone transatlantic

A photograph of the launch of Norwegian Air’s transatlantic services from Shannon Airport in 2017. These are to be axed in September.

A photograph of the launch of Norwegian Air’s transatlantic services from Shannon Airport in 2017. These are to be axed in September.

 

Norwegian Air’s decision to pull its transatlantic flights from Ireland is a blow for consumers and the tourism industry here. Launched just two years ago, the flights to New York, Boston and Toronto added to competition out of Dublin and Shannon airports, and brought transatlantic routes to Cork for the first time.

Norwegian offers a no-frills transatlantic service and competitive fares to travellers who don’t mind flying to secondary airports. Its decision to quit the Irish market seems counter-intuitive given the record numbers flying across the Atlantic. Transatlantic traffic at Dublin Airport increased by 16 per cent last year to over four million passengers – more than double the level of a decade ago.

Norwegian launched its transatlantic strategy in 2012 and offered cut-price fares out of eight European markets, including Ireland. But its rapid expansion left it financially stretched. In July, Bjorn Kjos, the architect of Norwegian’s transatlantic strategy, stepped down. To add to Norwegian’s woes, the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max forced the carrier to lease planes at short notice to cater for travellers in the peak summer season.

It was another blow to the already troubled airline, which has now ditched its aggressive growth strategy in an effort to stay in business. While there will still be more than 170 flights a week to the US, Pat Dawson, chief executive of the Irish Travel Agents Association, is concerned that “fares will climb” when Norwegian ceases services on September 15th. It certainly eases the competitive pressure on Aer Lingus, the airline most impacted by Norwegian’s transatlantic routes. It also brings an end to Cork’s short-lived transatlantic services, which is a setback for the region.

Norwegian’s decision comes just four months after rival budget carrier Wow Air, which offered flights from Dublin to North America via Iceland, ceased trading. Their problems highlight the difficulties in operating low-cost flights across the Atlantic and might explain why Ryanair, the most successful budget airline in Europe, has never gone transatlantic.

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