Low-fare airline Wizz Air has confirmed that it’s giving up its domestic routes in Norway from mid-June. Its attempt to offer cheap airfares by using low-paid non-unionized crews set off an uproar, and now Wizz Air admits that its plans were not “financially sustainable.”
The airline faced regional boycotts and political opposition over its use of low-cost largely Eastern European pilots and flight attendants who were flown into Norway for several weeks at a time to serve as crew onboard flights between various Norwegian cities. The airline also now faces renewed competition from a newly reorganized Norwegian Air, Norway’s long-dominant carrier SAS, short-haul airline Widerøe and a brand new airline called Flyr, that’s due to start flying later this month, initially between Oslo and Tromsø.
Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported late Friday night that it was no longer possible to book flights on Wizz Air either to Bergen, Trondheim, Stavanger or Tromsø after June 13. Flights to Ålesund, Harstad/Narvik, Bodø, Haugesund, Kirkenes and Alta were no longer available on the airline’s website. WizzAir didn’t respond to questions from DN but confirmed to business news service E24 on Saturday that it was ending domestic service within Norway.
In a rather bitter statement from Wizz Air, the airline claimed that “the last seven months have shown that it’s not financially sustainable to have domestic capacity in Norway on a commercial basis.” A Wizz Air spokesman claimed “all other airlines” received (presumably state) assistance and therefore don’t operate in accordance with market conditions.
The airline claimed it had brought “real competition” and low fares to the Norwegian market. It shut down its base in Trondheim after just three months of operations, though, and was widely criticized for refusing to negotiate pay and working conditions with employees. Wizz Air’s chief executive Josef Vàradi had publicly stated that he disliked unions.
That set off the political opposition, with even Conservative Prime Minister Erna Solberg saying she would not fly on an airline that had no tariff agreements with its employees. Wizz Air threatened legal action over alleged boycotts but did not pursue it.
Revitalized Norwegian Air may have spoiled Wizz’ plans
Yngve Carlsen, leader of one of Norway’s pilots’ unions, told DN he wasn’t surprised by the looming pull-out. He suspects, however, that Wizz Air’s business plan was based on a bankrupcty of Norwegian Air, which has instead managed to recapitalize and emerge from bankruptcy proceedings. It now intends to resume operations with up to 50 aircraft flying mostly in the Nordic area.
“With a reorganized and refinanced Norwegian, along with SAS, Widerøe and (new carrier) Flyr, the numbers probably didn’t add up for Josef Vàradi,” Carlsen told DN.
Wizz Air will continue to offer international flights from Norway, however, and remains a popular carrier for work migrants from several European countries.