Flying high, and flying the coop

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Norwegian Air, the scrappy cut-rate carrier, was flying high on Thursday after news of record profits and orders for new jets. Rival SAS Norge, meanwhile, saw much of its top management fly out the door, as domestic operations reverted to centralized management for troubled Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) in Stockholm.

Norwegian Air’s high-profile boss, Bjørn Kjos, could grin even wider than usual on Thursday. He could report third-quarter pre-tax profits of NOK 519 million, much higher than the NOK 401 million predicted by Analysts. Operating results were also higher, at NOK 476 million, and Kjos fully expects the airline’s strong performance to continue in the fourth quarter.

“We’re delivering quite good results as a maturing player in a branch in crisis,” Kjos said. “That makes us proud, but also humble.”

He claimed the results give Norwegian “strong motivation” to keep winning customer confidence.. He said the airline will continue to offer low fares.Norwegian also stated that it was expanding an order with Boeing for another six new 737-800 jets. It brings the airline’s total order up to 70 aircraft to be delivered by 2014.

Meanwhile, rival SAS Norge saw its longtime main offices at Fornebu, west of Oslo, shut down since SAS Norge officially ceased to exist from October 1. Four of its most senior executives announced they were quitting.

Top boss Ola Strand, personnel manager Svein Oppegaard, operations director Dag Falk-Petersen and communications director Thomas Midteide all resigned effective by yearend. Strand has accepted the top job at grocery store chain Coop Norge.

While Norwegian is flying high, SAS continues to be weighted down by an expensive fleet and a huge array of labour unions in three countries. Losses have mounted for years, the airline has been plagued by strikes and various cost-cutting programs have had mixed results.

SAS’ shares have fallen from SEK 26 to under SEK 4 since 2007, and the company has long been seen as a takeover candidate for Lufthansa.