Norway’s domestic carrier Widerøe, best-known for serving the country’s small airports with short runways, announced major cuts in passenger and cargo service on Monday. It acknowledged that “crucial public transport” in outlying areas would be grounded, because of its high costs.
“We’re unfortunately forced to cut completely necessary public transport in District Norway,” Widerøe’s chief executive, Stein Nilsen, stated in a press release Monday morning. He claimed that various passenger taxes and fees combined with the high costs of short routes and small aircraft left the airline struggling with profitability.
“The negative development has continued and grown worse over the years,” stated Nilsen, adding that Norway’s weak krone, aging aircraft and fees amounting to around NOK 400 million over the past three years have contributed to Widerøe’s woes.
“We’re in a desperate situation,” Nilsen later told state broadcaster NRK. “We know that the result of these cuts will result in service to remote areas that’s nowhere near what passengers need, but we have no choice.”
Subsidized service exempt
He’s warned of cuts from early May that will reduce the airline’s flights by 15 percent, resulting in 4,000 fewer departures a year. The Evenes airport located between the northern cities of Harstad and Narvik will be hit hard, with routes cut to both Bodø and Andenes. So will many Widerøe routes to and from Bodø and Tromsø, between Bergen and Florø and between Oslo and Hovden in the mountains of Southern Norway. Several direct routes between small airports and Oslo will be cut as well, including some routes between the Norwegian capital and Florø, Namsos, Mo i Rana, Sandnessjøen, Brønnøysund, Leknes and Svolvær.
The cuts won’t affect routes that the state pays Widerøe to operate, to ensure transport to remote communities. Widerøe also received fee relief valued at NOK 40 million from the government this year, but it wasn’t enough. “Now they’re taking drastic steps to demand more from the transport ministry and government,” Narvik Mayor Rune Edvardsen of the Labour Party told NRK.
Officials in many small towns in Nordland County are shaken by the looming route cuts, noting how they rely on Widerøe, especially in areas where there’s no train service. Distances are vast and weather so troublesome that driving takes many hours and can be hazardous.
Flexing market muscle
Others claimed, however, that Widerøe is using its market dominance to get more money out of the state.
“I think it’s irresponsible of Widerøe to just send out a press release that they’re cutting routes,” said Kristina Hansen of the Labour Party. She’s the former mayor of Honningsvåg and head of county transport in Troms og Finnmark. She worries the threatened cuts will hurt business, public health and local residents in the areas the airline now serves.
New Transport Minister Knut Arild Hareide of the Christian Democrats party is also worried about the consequences of Widerøe’s route cuts and will have another meeting with the airline later this week. “Widerøe is very important for the districts,” he told NRK. He noted that the government already has “been in disalogue” with Widerøe and provided the airline with some financial relief. “I think everyone will understand that I don’t have any solution in place today,” Hareide told NRK, “but we are concerned.”