The airline currently operates 38 direct transatlantic flights between Europe and the US, following the introduction of three new routes from Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport. Two of these services – to Los Angeles International Airport and New York’s John F Kennedy Airport – started in July this year.
A third new route to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport started in August. But certainly when it comes to British subsidiary Norwegian UK, chief commercial officer Thomas Ramdahl believes there are opportunities to be had heading east.
The airline already operates three flights to Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport from Oslo, Copenhagen and Stockholm, meaning it would be a logical destination for any new ex-UK flights. Ramdahl says: “We will look at seasonal traffic. The first interesting destination will be Bangkok but there are plenty of other destinations as well. It is quite easy and we’re taking the low-hanging fruit as well.”
These other easier opportunities include China, Japan and Singapore, especially once the Chinese middle class starts to travel en masse, which would mean the launch of a whole new market to take advantage of.
Ramdahl says: “They will travel to London, to Paris and to Rome, then they’re going to look at all the historical sites. I would say [we could have far eastern routes] hopefully by the winter season 2017.”
In doing so, the airline would hope to take advantage of the bilateral agreements the UK currently enjoys with many Asian countries, the same as it has with South America and Africa. However, Ramdahl admits that long-haul expansion from the UK, which he describes as “one of the most important markets at the moment”, may well be hampered by the lack of available slots at Gatwick.
The airline is iscurrently its third biggest, but if the space isn’t there he will look at other regional airports that still have it. Ramdahl says this will also help further drive Norwegian UK’s transatlantic programme with a potential Birmingham-New York route to be introduced, while new long-haul westbound routes out of Manchester and Edinburgh airports are expected for 2017.
Nor is the US likely to be the only beneficiary of such a move, he adds, saying: “The Caribbean is a booming market at the moment. If we look at the flight duration to the Caribbean compared to going to Thailand it is four or even five hours less.
“We’re flying to Puerto Rico at the moment and we are looking at other destinations in the Caribbean as well.” Closer to home, Ramdahl says parts of Europe remain of interest to the airline with eastern Europe on the radar.
“It all depends on where you divide the border for eastern Europe,” he adds. “It is interesting but it is a heavily competitive market as well; if you’re going to do it you have to do it well.”
However, Ramdahl argues that the job is getting easier as more and more people become familiar with the low-cost carrier. “We see that the awareness [of Norwegian] is really picking up. It has been taking a bit longer than we thought it would, but having the low fares has really pushed the awareness of the airline. It has an awareness of up to 60% in the UK now.
“It is quite a competitive market here as well. Our entering into the market has given the public a slightly different product from Ryanair and easyJet; we’re something in between.” Ramdahl believes it is these low-cost fares which have not only helped the airline raise its profile both in the UK but Europe too, where the introduction of low-cost, long-haul flights have been a new concept.
“We are cheaper than flying with traditional airlines, we’re making a new market basically. When we started out from Oslo, 40% [of customers] were first-time long-haul flyers. Basically our many competitors didn’t lose any market share, we added new traffic into the market. “You will see that many of our passengers are new to long haul, they haven’t been flying that far before, we’re making it affordable.” And if they maintain that attitude, no wonder the dawn burns so brightly for the airline.
This article first appeared in Routes News