OSLO (AFP) – “Norway” and “cheap” are two words that rarely go together, yet this oil-rich Scandinavian country is where Europe’s third-largest budget airline first spread its wings.
Over the past decade, Norwegian Air Shuttle has brought budget travel into the Nordic mainstream, pushing Scandinavian legacy carrier SAS to the brink.
Its latest mission is to compete on long-haul routes, a market where budget airlines have tried to gain a foothold without success, and comes at a time when all European airlines face stiff competition from state-backed Gulf rivals.
Founded as a regional airline before turning itself into a low-cost operator in 2002, Norwegian launched into a depressed market suffering from the impact of the 9/11 attacks.
“In order to survive we had to go for costs… And in order to get the costs low enough we had to grow,” said Bjoern Kjos, the fighter pilot-turned-lawyer who is the company’s chief executive.
At the heart of Norwegian’s success has been a large and modern fleet that consumes less fuel than those of its rivals.
It also focuses on large population areas to ensure flights are never half empty. By contrast, traditional European carriers use connecting flights to fill their planes, meaning the aircraft spend more time in the airport.
“The aircraft isn’t earning any money sitting on the ground,” Kjos told AFP.
Norwegian’s red and white aircraft have an average turnaround time – the time an aircraft must remain parked at the gate – of just 20 minutes in the country’s airports.
In 2012, the group placed the largest order in European aviation history as it agreed to buy 222 Boeing 737s and Airbus A320neos for a list price of 16.6 billion euros ($21.6 billion).
As it begins to take delivery of the new generation aircraft in 2016, the company will save up to 15 per cent on fuel.