Low-cost long-haul airline Norwegian could be set to start operating flights from London Heathrow (LHR) with some sources suggesting the airport operator wants the carrier to open up a new route to Orlando, Florida. The news was revealed in a recent report by Airport Coordination Ltd – a private company that, as the name would suggest, coordinates slot allocations for a number of airports around the world.
The initial coordination report for the Summer 2020 season reveals Norwegian had applied for up to 14 ‘slots’ (the opportunity to take-off and land) at Heathrow and had been awarded six of those slots. The report does not detail the timings of those slots or importantly, how much Norwegian would be spending on those rights.
Available slots at Heathrow airport are famously hard to come by and can sell for millions of dollars when they do come up for auction. The two-runway West London airport has been operating at full capacity for years and has managed to maintain its position as one of the top 10 busiest airports in the world despite the fact its capacity has trailed behind competitors.
Last year, Heathrow handled over 80 million passengers and such is the demand to get a slice of that market that in 2016, Oman Air spent $75 million on just one slot pair. Meanwhile, Etihad Airways paid $70 million for three slots pairs from the now-defunct Jet Airways and in 2017, Scandanavian carrier SAS sold two pairs of slots for $75 million.
But it’s not just the ‘how’ that remains unanswered in Norwegian’s decision to start operations from Heathrow. The ‘why’ is also a mystery and will be a radical change in strategy from operating out of London’s ‘second’ airport at Gatwick.
Norwegian has found a decent amount of success in operating long-haul flights from its UK hub – in particular to the United States, as well as Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo. Gatwick Airport (LGW) has given Norwegian the capacity to grow at a decent price – an essential ingredient when you’re operating a low-cost airline with razor-thin margins.
Adding a second long-haul base, just 38 miles away from one that is already established seems foolish to say the least although Virgin Atlantic, Cathay Pacific and Emirates also serve both airports. But while Virgin Atlantic uses Gatwick for leisure routes and Heathrow for business-heavy routes, it looks like Norwegian is being tempted by Heathrow to try the exact opposite.
The news comes just days after Norwegian announced it would be shutting its long-haul bases in Copenhagen and Stockholm. The airline said there simply wasn’t enough demand in Scandinavia to operate three long-haul bases in the region. Norwegian will maintain its long-haul base in Oslo but spread freed-up capacity to London, as well as Paris and Barcelona.
The same coordination report suggests North American carrier jetBlue has requested up to 70 slots at Heathrow as it looks to start long-haul flights to Europe. jetBlue hasn’t yet said what London airport it will serve once it finally gets its services up and running. As it stands, JetBlue has not been awarded any slots at Heathrow.