Bjørn Kjos, embattled chief executive of Norwegian Air, was lashing out at EU and US authorities this week as he braced for another meeting between them that may decide the fate of his airline’s trans-Atlantic service. He calls the ongoing delays in his airline’s attempt to win a permanent license for the service “completely crazy.”
The delays, Kjos told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN), have already cost the low-fare carrier he launched just over a decade ago more than several hundred million kroner by his own estimate. That equates to tens of millions of dollars, and now he also has nearly half of the US House of Representatives against him. DN reported on Wednesday that 192 members have written a letter to the US Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, asking him to reject Norwegian’s application for the permanent license to operate scheduled flights between Europe and the US.
The move comes just when Kjos is keen to keep expanding his airline’s service to the US with flights to Hawaii and other US destinations. Kjos told members of the International Aviation Club in Washington DC that the only thing stopping him is a shortage of aircraft to serve new routes. The Boeing 787 Dreamliners that Norwegian has used for the intercontinental service it launched last year are currently sold out and Norwegian wants more, despite lots of technical trouble with the aircraft that caused serious delays and cancellations.
‘In their interests to stop us’
Now Kjos is facing the far more serious threat posed by competitors, labour unions and politicians trying to ground Norwegian’s trans-Atlantic flights. Norwegian has been operating its routes between Scandinavia and the US on a temporary license that allows the airline to use lower-paid Asian crews on board. Kjos blames the pilots’ and flight attendants’ unions, rivals Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) and Delta: “We fly to many of the same cities that they do. It’s in their interests to stop us,” Kjos told DN. SAS officials deny the charge, claiming they merely want the US and EU authorities “to secure the same regulatory framework for the entire airline industry.”
Meanwhile, opposition continued to build against Norwegian, with metro stations in the Washington DC area full of “No to Norwegian” advertising placards, labour demonstrations on Capitol Hill and anti-Norwegian Air ads in local newspapers. Kjos has been working hard in advance of this week’s meeting to drum up support and remained confident “we’ll get approval in the end. There’s no reason to turn us down.”
He’s found some support, including Charlie Leocha of the consumer group Travelers United. “Aviation is all about safety and price,” Leocha told DN. “With Norwegian you get both, not least dramatically lower fares. From a consumer point of view, it would be wrong to deny Norwegian permission to fly.”
The labour officials and politicians disagree, claiming that Norwegian seeks to fly under a “flag of convenience,” and that it should follow the same rules as all other airlines flying trans-Atlantic routes. Kjos claims his opponents have failed to prove Norwegian is breaking any rules, and thus have resorted to delay tactics that are costing Norwegian dearly.
“We’ll just have to keep covering those costs,” Kjos said. “But it’s completely crazy.”