Norse Atlantic Airways CEO Bjørn Tore Larsen insists the airline is not Norwegian Air, but the startup is looking more and more like the now-defunct long-haul arm of that airline.
Norse is in the process of securing an air operators certificate (AOC) from UK authorities that would allow it to add flights in the “biggest transatlantic market,” or between the UK and the U.S., Larsen said at an International Aviation Club (IAC) event in Washington, D.C., on February 10. Norwegian Air offered flights between the UK and U.S. from 2014 to 2019, including by its UK-based subsidiary Norwegian Air International, which attracted the ire of U.S. lawmakers and labor unions.
“We are not Norwegian [Air] … We are a lean and focused operator. We will do do one thing only: We will fly long-haul with one aircraft type. We are going to be taking home gold medal rather than trying to three, or four, or five at the same time, because then it’s going to be silver, or bronze, or worse,” said Larsen when asked how Norse will succeed when Norwegian Air did not.
While Norwegian Air did attempt to build a diversified low-cost airline group, Larsen’s arguments for why Norse is different and will succeed — a focus on low costs, a disciplined concentration on a single business, and likely very low aircraft lease rates — were very similar to those of former Norwegian Air CEO Bjørn Kjos. In interviews during his tenure, which ended in 2019, Kjos repeatedly dismissed criticisms of Norwegian Air’s long-haul, low-cost business.
“If they hadn’t been profitable, then we wouldn’t have been flying them,” Kjos said in 2017.
Kjos continued to dismiss criticisms until he left, shortly after which Norwegian Air entered administration and, in early 2021, officially shuttered its long-haul business.
Norse Atlantic, however, will pick up where Norwegian Air left off. With its EU AOC and U.S. permits in hand, Norse plans to begin flights between Oslo and the U.S. in the second quarter, Larsen said. He specifically declined to say whether that meant April, May, or June. Initial destinations will include Fort Lauderdale, New York — either JFK or Stewart airports — and Ontario, Calif. Tickets will go on sale at the end of March.
Norse will launch with three Boeing 787s — its first arrived in December — and grow slowly through the summer. Its fleet plan calls for three 787-8s with 291 seats, and 15 787-9s with 344 seats.
The startup is not alone in debuting budget transatlantic service this summer. Iceland’s Play — a reboot of sorts of Wow Air — will also launch U.S. flights beginning with Baltimore-Washington in April, Boston in May, and New York Stewart in June.
In terms of Norse’s planned UK flights, Larsen said he expects a local AOC “in a few months time.” The airline already has begun the application process with UK authorities, he added.
“We don’t want to run before demand comes back,” he said about the start of flights. He added that Norse will focus initially on operating just one airline — referring to its initial Norway-based operation — before it launches a second.
Norse has learned one thing from Norwegian Air: Secure political and union support early. While Norwegian Air’s U.S. expansion repeatedly faced pushback from both lawmakers and organized labor, Norse reached a deal with the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA last June — months before it even had an operating certificate — to avoid any such outcry. Larsen said Thursday that the airline has “good relationships” with both British and Norwegian pilot unions; though there was no mention of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), the largest U.S. pilots union.
And Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee who was unconvinced about Norse last year, was in attendance at IAC event.
“Sir, I know you were skeptical of us,” Larsen said to DeFazio at the event. “Thank you very much for listening to us and giving us a chance.”