Low-cost carrier Norwegian plans to establish a UK subsidiary to fuel further long-haul growth.
Chief executive Bjorn Kjos told the Financial Times the airline was in the process of obtaining a UK operating licence, which would enable it fly to new destinations in Africa, India and South America.
The move could also help Europe’s third-largest budget carrier overcome opposition from the US to its transatlantic expansion, according to industry experts.
The airline is embroiled in a dispute with Washington regulators over its proposals to operate flights from Europe to the US using aircraft registered in Ireland.
Both US airlines and trade unions have lobbied against granting Norwegian permission to fly into the US under these arrangements, claiming the carrier is seeking to use an Irish operating licence to sidestep Norway’s high labour costs when hiring crew.
A UK operating licence for Norwegian — which already operates flights from Gatwick to four US destinations — could help defuse the US row, the FT quoted two analysts, who declined to be named, as saying.
The licence would also enable Norwegian to take advantage of the UK’s bilateral traffic agreements with India as well as countries in Africa and South America.
Kjos voiced confidence that the airline will get the green light “sooner or later” for its Irish arm to operate flights to the US.
“The US airlines hate Norwegian because we are flying with low fares,” he said. “They are trying to protect their turf by all means.”
Norwegian celebrates one year of flying from Gatwick to the US today (Thursday) and plans to increase the frequency of flights to New York to a daily connection from October.
Norwegian also plans to operate long-haul flights from Paris as early as next year, Klos said. The airline is considering long-haul flights from Barcelona and Rome, although Kjos admitted it does not yet have sufficient aircraft.
Norwegian has a fleet of eight Boeing 787 Dreamliners and orders for a further nine of the long range aircraft.
A spokeswoman for the airline told the FT: “The reason for establishing a UK company is for access to bilateral traffic rights, enabling us to offer new destinations.
“However, if we do obtain … permission for the UK air operating company it would allow us to be more flexible in our operation, with the use of our aircraft and crew.”
Norwegian also today confirmed the launch of a new route between Gatwick and Boston from May 2016.
This will be in addition to the introduction of a Puerto Rico service from Gatwick from November and daily flights to New York from October.
The airline said more than 200,000 passengers had flown on its low cost transatlantic flights to New York, Los Angeles and Fort Lauderdale in the past year.
Norwegian currently has nine aircraft based at Gatwick, including two Dreamliners and expects to carry more than one million passengers from the airport across its European and long haul networks between July and September.
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