Norwegian has had a really tough start to the year. The Oslo-based low-cost airline is already in major cost-cutting mode but problem after problem seems to hamper every effort it makes to reduce losses and get back into the black. The two biggest issues facing the airline right now are the worldwide grounding of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft and yet more problems found with the Rolls-Royce engines on Boeing 787 Dreamliners.
Unlike some competitors with similar issues, Norwegian has committed to running its full Summer schedule – presumably, the airline has done the math and realised it would either lose more money or customer confidence by slashing its operation. With a significant number of aircraft out of action for prolonged periods of time, that means Norwegian is using wet lease operators to get some passengers from A to B.
We already know that Norwegian will be grounding up to four of its Boeing 787 Dreamliner fleet at a time over the next few months for engine inspection and repair work. During this time, four wet lease operators have been contracted to operate flights between London Gatwick (LGW) and Orlando (MCO), Miami (MIA), Denver (DEN), Chicago (ORD) and New York JFK.
- London Gatwick (LGW) – New York (JFK) – DI7013, DI7014, DI7914 – will be operated by an Evelop Airlines A330 until October 2019
- London Gatwick (LGW) – Orlando (MCO) – DI7053, DI7054, DI7057, DI7058 – will be operated by a Hi Fly Airbus A340 until October 2019
- London Gatwick (LGW) – Miami (MIA) – DI7043, DI7044 – will be operated by a Privilege Style Boeing 777 until October 2019
- London Gatwick (LGW) – Denver (DEN) – DI7171, DI7172 – will be operated by a Wamos Air Airbus A330 until October 2019
- London Gatwick (LGW) – Chicago (ORD) – DI7151, DI7152 – will be operated by a Wamos Air Airbus A330 until October 2019
Obviously, the aircraft supplied by these wet lease operators aren’t going to be as new as the 787 Dreamliners in Norwegian’s fleet. There might not be any in-flight entertainment on some of these routes and last minute changes to seat assignments should be expected. Passengers booked in Premium should still get a seat which is equivalent to what Norwegian offers but this can’t be guaranteed.
As Norwegian heads into the busy Summer period, the full extent of indefinitely grounding the airline’s 18 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft is starting to be felt as well. The airline has already had to use a limited number of wet lease operations to make up for the grounded 737’s but it now looks like these agreements are being significantly increased.
Eight different wet lease operators are being brought in to operate certain services from the following airports between May and the end of August:
- Stockholm-Arlanda (ARN)
- Dublin (DUB)
- Copenhagen (CPH)
- Oslo (OSL)
Specific flight details aren’t yet known and could change at the last minute. The big change on these flights is that WiFi won’t be available as is pretty much standard on Norwegian.
Using wet lease operators during peak travel periods isn’t uncommon but to the extent that Norwegian is relying on these expensive contractors is unusual. Norwegian so far estimates that the grounding of the 737 MAX will cost it at least $57 million but the airline says it has had “constructive” talks with Boeing – presumably over some sort of compensation package.
Norwegian has asked cabin crew at some bases to take unpaid leave for extended periods of time because wet lease operators are fulfilling so much of the airline’s schedule that it’s caused a “significant surplus” of crew. There is concern that redunancies may become necessary, although it looks like Norwegian is doing everything possible to avoid this.