Norwegian boss Bjorn Kjos has stood down as chief executive of the budget carrier with immediate effect (July 11) after 17 years at the helm.
Kjos will take up a new role as advisor to Norwegian chairman Niels Smedegaard, who in turn will take a more active role in the airline’s management.
Chief financial officer Geir Karlsen, who joined the airline in April last year, has been appointed interim chief executive.
Smedegaard said the search for a new permanent chief executive was already under way.
“I am very pleased Bjorn will remain at the company as an advisor to the board and the chair,” he said.
“As Norwegian moves from growth to profitability, it will be an advantage for the company to benefit from Bjorn’s extensive network, in-depth knowledge of and experience with global aviation.”
Law graduate turned fighter pilot Kjos, 72, is one of Norwegian’s founding partners. He has been chief executive since October 2002 and chaired the airline’s board between 1993 and 1996.
During his 17-year tenure, Kjos has overseen Norwegian’s growth from a small, domestic carrier with 130 staff and four aircraft to a global low-cost carrier employing more than 11,000 and operating in excess of 160 aircraft.
“I am confident the board will find the best qualified successor to lead the next chapters of the Norwegian story together with the top management team,” said Kjos.
“Leaving the exciting future tasks to a new chief executive and taking on a new challenge as an advisor is a setup I am very happy with. I look forward to spending more time working on specific strategic projects crucial to the future success of Norwegian.”
Smedegaard added: “Bjorn has played an unprecedented role in Norwegian’s success. His vision of offering affordable fares for all, combined with his enthusiasm and innovating spirit, has revolutionised the way people travel for pleasure and for business, not least between the continents. Bjorn is definitely one of the most influential European entrepreneurs of our time.”
Last year, amid what Norwegian admits was a “period of financial and operational challenges”, the airline has pivoted from a growth strategy to one of pursuing profitability, which has seen it consolidate its route network and aircraft order book and attempt to shore up its balance sheet.
“We have to ensure Norwegian is well prepared and positioned to handle volatile markets and unexpected events,” Smedegaard added. “It is crucial we continue to deliver on our cost reduction initiatives and constantly ensure we have a route portfolio that yields profit.
"It is also important the new chief executive develops an organisation that embraces continued improvement and operational excellence.”