Norwegian axes long-haul flights and cuts 1,100 Gatwick jobs

Norwegian axes long-haul flights and cuts 1,100 Gatwick jobs

Norwegian has announced it will no longer fly long-haul routes, even after the pandemic, bringing an end to its low-cost, long-haul vision and spelling the loss of about 1,100 jobs based at Gatwick airport.

The airline said it would retrench to a short-haul European network and domestic Norwegian routes for good, as it outlined its business plan for survival.

About 2,150 jobs in the UK, Spain, France and the US will go, and one union warned that the airline industry was in an employment “death spiral”.

The airline’s 1,100 UK flight crew and pilots had been furloughed since the start of the Covid-19 crisis. About 400 other UK crew who worked on short-haul routes were made redundant last year.

The airline is going through bankruptcy protection proceedings in Ireland that will allow it to restructure and continue operations by demonstrating a viable business plan to judges there.

Norwegian will no longer retain any of its fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliners that it used to fly long-haul, and will reduce its overall fleet to 50 narrow-body planes.

It was once the third-biggest airline at Gatwick and pioneered low-cost transatlantic flights, but its ambitious expansion put it in financial peril even before Covid-19 hit.

The airline’s plan focuses on saving Norwegian jobs and it is understood to be in renewed dialogue with Norway’s government about potential state support, two months after ministers said they could not invest more taxpayers’ money in propping up the airline.

Jacob Schram, the airline’s chief executive, said: “Our short-haul network has always been the backbone of Norwegian and will form the basis of a future resilient business model. By focusing our operation on a short-haul network, we aim to attract existing and new investors, serve our customers and support the wider infrastructure and travel industry in Norway and across the Nordics and Europe.”

The pilots’ union Balpa said Norwegian’s announcement was further devastating news for UK airline staff, with about 300 pilots among the 1,100 Gatwick job losses.

Brian Strutton, Balpa’s general secretary, said: “The airline has failed for several reasons but there can be no blame apportioned to the pilot, crew or other staff groups.”

He said it was further evidence of the “jobs death spiral”, adding that “aviation remains in serious crisis”.

The Unite union, which represents crew, said airline workers had not been consulted about the job losses and were owed outstanding wages and redundancy pay, and should be the first priority during the insolvency process of Norwegian’s UK arm.

Under Norwegian’s complex company structure, only its subsidiaries employing the crew have gone into liquidation, allowing its Gatwick-based airline, Norwegian UK, to survive on paper and one day potentially return to the air.

However, it is extremely unlikely to spread its wings quite so far again. Schram said: “Our focus is to rebuild a strong, profitable Norwegian so that we can safeguard as many jobs as possible. We do not expect customer demand in the long-haul sector to recover in the near future.”

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