Back in November we took a look at Norwegian’s drastically reduced flying during the pandemic, and speculated about whether the airline would survive at all. At the time flights had been reduced to all but a handful of mostly domestic runs in Norway. Now it seems we have something of an answer about Norwegian’s future. The airline announced today that it plans to completely exit long haul flying and focus instead on short haul European routes going forward. That will mean offloading its entire fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliners.
A sensible step
In many ways this makes sense. Downsizing and simplifying what had become a massive and sprawling operation at a time of depressed demand for air travel seems wise. Norwegian says this move will mean a return to focusing on its core Nordic markets – something that had gradually faded away as the airline grew. That also sounds like a sensible move. The airline doesn’t rule out a return to long-haul flying in future, but we can be fairly sure if that does happen, it will be a much more cautious expansion than the first time around.
In the months of September and October 2019, just a few months before the pandemic threw the aviation industry into chaos, Norwegian flew 2,912 flights using its 787 fleet. It wasn’t unheard of for Norwegian to fly intra-European services using the 787 occasionally, but the vast majority of these were long-haul.
A sudden stop last March
Up until mid-March of 2020, Norwegian’s long-haul operations remained busy and far-reaching. Then, by the end of March, all 787s were grounded. The last Norwegian 787 commercial flight that Flightradar24 tracked was flown by LN-LNC, which flew Krabi to Oslo on March 29. None have operated a commercial flight since and it looks as if the next time they do, it will be with other operators.
It’s a remarkable fall for what was just a year or two ago one of the world’s fastest growing airlines. From being seen as far afield as Rio de Janeiro, Los Angeles, Bangkok and Tampa – not to mention its red noses showing up all over tarmacs at London Gatwick, Oslo, Stockholm and more – to nothing. And it is bad news for all crew bases outside of Scandinavia, with quite a few jobs now going away for good.
Better than an outright collapse
Nevertheless it’s at least good to know that Norwegian will survive, even in a diminished form, and try to make European flying work as demand for air travel hopefully begins to tick upward again. Whether you love or hate their old business model, the airline did bring very low fares and lots of new nonstop service to many of us while it was in its ascendancy.
Norwegian says it expects to have a fleet of 50 aircraft going forward – all Boeing 737s. That’s not exactly a small fleet. If all goes according to plan we’ll still be seeing plenty of Norwegian, at least here in Europe, for the foreseeable future.