Bjørn Kjos, founder and chief executive of Norwegian Air, finally had something to smile about again this week. After months of severe turbulence at his airline, he collected two more industry prizes and was openly courted at a major airshow in England by the founder of another large low-fare airline, AirAsia, which seems more keen than ever for the two airlines to cooperate.
Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported on Wednesday that AirAsia founder Tony Fernandes all but invited himself to Oslo for a meeting with Kjos on a formal cooperation between AirAsia and Norwegian. DN reported that Fernandes and Kjos met for the first time at the Farnborough International Airshow and also spoke for the first time about a prospective joint venture to send their passengers into each other’s route networks in Europe and Asia.
DN reported the cooperation could start in around a year and create a new era in route offerings for Norwegian passengers in Asia.
The two airlines have a lot in common, and their courtship has come up before. Both have grown at a rapid rate on the back of relatively cheap airline tickets, and created widespread route networks in their respective markets. AirAsia has more than 200 routes in Asia using mostly Airbus aircraft. Norwegian has an extensive route system within Scandinavia and Europe, and is keen on expanding its intercontinental routes as well.
DN reported that Fernandes pointed to a Norwegian Air button he was wearing on his lapel, asked Kjos for his phone number and said he wanted to fly to Oslo for a serious talk. “We’ve never had the opportunity to meet each other before now,” Fernandes said. “If I get the opportunity to come to Oslo, we should sit down and talk. Why not?”
Competition may also loom
The two airlines may be on the verge of competing on intercontinental routes between Europe and Asia. Fernandes intends to re-launch a route between Kuala Lumpur and London and has mentioned flying into one of the Scandinavian capitals as well, feeding passengers into Norwegian’s route system for onward travel. Kjos didn’t reject the idea.
“We wish him welcome and like competition,” Kjos told DN, calling Fernandes “a great guy” who leads “a very good airline” as he gave him a pat on the shoulder. Norwegian, meanwhile, has concentrated on expanding its intercontinenal routes to North and South America and has put Asian expansion on hold, because of restrictions on flying over Russia.
Kjos was once again flashing his customary grin after dealing with a string of trouble in recent weeks and months. He was further cheered after winning two top industry prizes at Farnborough. Norwegian Air won the Skytrax Award as Europe’s best airline for the fourth time, and as the best long-distance low fare airline for the second time. The Skytrax prizes are highly rates because they’re based on votes from thousands of passengers worldwide.
AirAsia, meawhile, won four prizes including the one for the best low-fare airline in the world. “These are the world’s two best airlines,” Kjos claimed as he stood with Fernandes at Farnborough. The prizes “show that the customers like our product. They’re the ones who voted for us.”