Helped by its own massive expansion, low-cost airline Norwegian set a new record for the number of passengers it carried last year. The airline had over 33 million passengers in 2017 – that’s up 3.8 million on the previous year. The passenger increase was fueled by new routes and aircraft joining Norwegian’s fleet.
Reacting to the news, Norwegian’s chief executive, Bjørn Kjos explained: “The 2017 traffic figures show that our international footprint grows stronger, in line with the Norwegian Group’s strategy.”
He credited much of the growth to the carriers long-haul network – particulary in the UK and Ireland, “proving the demand for high-quality, affordable travel” and saying the routes has been “well-received by passengers.” Kjos described the airline’s bread and butter Scandinavian operation as “stable and positive,” explaining the short-haul and long-haul networks complemented one another.
It certainly was a year of rapid expansion for the carrier. 2017 saw Norwegian add 54 routes across its network. The airline says the majority of new services were between the U.S. and Europe – In June, Norwegian added flights from secondary airports on the U.S. East Coast to smaller European airport’s using its new Boeing 737MAX 8 aircraft. The airline also recently announced a slew of new routes from established U.S. bases.
The airline took delivery of 32 brand new aircraft – including Boeing 787 Dreamliner’s – to serve its growing network. Over 2,000 new staff, including U.S.-based flight attendants and pilots, were also hired in 2017.
But while Norwegian describes its load factor as ‘solid’, it did drop marginally to 87.5% from 87.7% the previous year.
The figures are impressive but critics are concerned the airline’s fortunes aren’t as stable as its management would make out. Norwegian’s longtime chief financial officer stepped down last year amidst speculation he had been forced out of the company. Concern has also been raised over Norwegian’s liquidity and overexposure to its ambitious fleet expansion and renewal programme.
Still, Norwegian remains popular with passengers – last year, the airline was awarded the title of ‘World’s best low-cost long-haul airline’ for the third year in a row by industry judges Skytrax. A second industry body, CAPA went as far as to name Norwegian its ‘Airline of the Year’. No wonder it retains its position as the 3rd largest low-cost airline in Europe.
For the year ahead, Norwegian has even bigger plans up its sleeves. Its first route between Europe and South America will begin in February and plans to start an Argentinian subsidiary are set to be progressed. Meanwhile, Norwegian will eventually start fitting wifi to its long-haul aircraft fleet and a larger Premium cabin is set to debut on its Dreamliner fleet.