Norwegian Air confident final approval coming soon for Ireland operation

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Norwegian Air confident final approval coming soon for Ireland operation

MIAMI — Ireland-based Norwegian Air International (NAI) will receive final Department of Transportation approval for a foreign air carrier permit within two to three weeks, a company executive predicted Wednesday.

“I think the legal guys in the DOT, you have to trust them that they have done a good job since they took such a long time,” Lars Sande, Norwegian's senior vice president of sales and distribution, said during a presentation at the Aviation Festival Americas here.

The DOT preliminarily approved the application in April after a 28-month review. But NAI has come under fire from labor unions and airlines American, Delta and United, which accuse its parent, Norwegian Air Group, of attempting to take advantage of Irish labor laws that are less strict than the labor laws of Norway.

Norwegian says it needs the Ireland-based entity in order to more easily expand its connecting route network to South America, Asia and Africa.

While Ireland is a member of the European Union (EU), Norway is not, and therefore Norwegian Air Shuttle cannot as easily take advantage of international EU aviation agreements as NAI could, they say.

Sande made his comments during a broader presentation at the aviation conference about Norwegian Air Group’s strategy for delivering low-cost long-haul service. Through Norwegian Air Shuttle, the company currently flies 29 routes between Europe and the U.S. and its territories.

Fuel efficiency and maximizing the number of passengers per flight are Norwegian's twin pillars, he said. And for long-haul routes, the carrier has pegged its strategy on the fuel-efficient Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. Norwegian currently has a fleet of 10 Dreamliners and will have 42 of them by 2020. Sande said use of the Dreamliner helped Norwegian be 14% more fuel efficient than its nearest competitor, Air Berlin, last year.

Also key is Norwegian’s approach to configuring its planes. While British Airways, for example, has just 216 seats on its four-class Dreamliners and United has 252 seats on its two-class Dreamliners, Norwegian has 291 seats. The ultra-low-cost carrier offers a premium cabin with extra legroom and eight seats per row rather than nine, but nothing approximating an international business class.

“Approximately 90% of people who are traveling are leisure travelers,” Sande said. “So why go after the 10% who want a flat bed. We don’t care about that.”

Norwegian, he added, fills 95% of its seats on average. The company also doesn’t use the hub model, and as a result has spread its crew bases to 18 locations, where it hires local workers.

The formula has allowed the carrier to offer tickets at prices well below what mainstream transatlantic carriers charge. A Kayak search Wednesday showed roundtrip New York-London tickets from June 15 to June 22 on Norwegian for $765, less than any other carrier, and several hundreds dollars less than most legacy carriers.

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