For the first time, pilots at Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) are calling on their own management to increase the number of non-stop intercontinental flights to and from Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen (OSL). They join calls from passengers, who are tired of having to change planes in Copenhagen or at other European hubs.
The pilots told newspaper Aftenposten on Monday that SAS can’t risk letting rival low-fare carrier Norwegian grab intercontinental market share as it rapidly expands long-haul service directly to and from OSL.
While SAS currently offers only one intercontinental non-stop flight from Oslo, to New York’s Newark airport, Norwegian already has three, to Bangkok, New York’s JFK airport and Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Even though Norwegian’s new long-haul service has been plagued by start-up problems, it’s rapidly expanding its offering with new routes set to launch this spring to Orlando, Los Angeles and Oakland, California.
SAS’ powerful pilot’s organization wants SAS to do the same, noting that passengers’ expectations have changed and there’s more demand than ever for non-stop long-distance flights to and from Oslo. They point out that while SAS only operates the one non-stop flight to New York from Oslo, it offers nine long-haul flights from Copenhagen and three from Stockholm.
Forced to fly south before heading north
“It’s clearly wrong that Norwegian SAS passengers have to first travel south (to Copenhagen, for example, or Frankfurt, Amsterdam or London on other carriers), the wrong way, only to fly over Norway again three to four hours later to get to the US,” Jens Lippestad, leader for pilots’ union Norske SAS-flyveres forening, told Aftenposten.
He thinks it’s equally wrong that passengers from both Sweden and Norway also have to fly south first in order to eventually fly east to destinations in Asia. It increases costs for the airline, he and colleague Rune Sundland said, takes much longer than necessary for the passenger and is bad for the environment.
They fear SAS is being too passive in its long-haul service, not least when traffic through Oslo now rivals or even exceeds traffic through Copenhagen’s Kastrup airport and Stockholm’s Arlanda.
“Now those who have some influence in SAS have to wake up,” Lippestad told Aftenposten. “Norway must get its share of new long-distance routes.” He and Sundland also suggested that the Danes could just as well fly up to Oslo to continue on non-stop flights to destinations like Chicago or the US West Coast. OSL Gardermoen is currently undergoing major expansion, and SAS is also in the process of renewing its fleet, with orders for 12 more long-distance Airbus jets.
Eivind Roald, the only Norwegian in SAS’ top management, said the airline was glad that many Nowegians prefer flying with SAS than other carriers, and he claimed SAS is “constantly evaluating” new long-haul routes, also from Oslo. He said there still is more international traffic from Denmark, though, than Norway and Sweden.
He acknowledged that more Norwegians fly than Swedes or Danes, but not necessarily long-haul. He also said that OSL Gardermoen’s facilities currently don’t invite more international flights.
Rivals like Norwegian, Qatar Airways, Thai Airways and charter airlines, however, have been adding new long-distance routes from OSL, while the SAS pilots noted that other major carriers like Lufthansa, KLM and British Airways have been expanding “aggressively” as well.