Norwegian Air Shuttle sets 737s for Ireland-U.S. flights

Norwegian Air Shuttle AS will use single-aisle Boeing Co. 737 jets to connect smaller European airports with the eastern U.S., complementing busier North American routes out of London and Scandinavia that are operated by bigger 787 Dreamliners.

The latest 737 Max, which joins the fleet from 2017, has the range to fly from Europe's "western coast" to most locations on the Atlantic seaboard of the U.S., Chief Executive Officer Bjoern Kjos said in an interview before announcing the first flights, from Cork in Ireland to New York and Boston.

"That's going to be very interesting, because you fly direct so people don't have to travel via hubs," Kjos said in Oslo, Norway. "We believe that there is a large market." Norwegian Air shares rose on the news.

Already a major discount carrier within Europe, Norwegian is working to extend the model to long-haul flights. While low-cost intercontinental travel proved unsustainable for companies such as Laker Airways in the past, Kjos is betting a new generation of fuel-efficient planes will make the service viable.

Norwegian has 100 re-engined Max variants of the 737 on order from a 222-plane, $21.5 billion deal with Boeing and Airbus Group SE announced in 2012. The Cork-Boston service will commence in May and will initially be operated by current-version 737-800 aircraft, with New York following in 2017. The routes will provide the Irish city's only trans-Atlantic links.

The carrier also has 17 Dreamliners due by 2018, of which eight are already in the fleet. Kjos said he's holding off on a possible follow-on order while awaiting a foreign carrier permit from the U.S., where airlines and unions have queried the legitimacy of plans to register jets in Ireland to cut costs.

The CEO said the permit is needed before Norwegian can start "full-scale" flying with the 787 fleet, since aircraft that might operate routes to Canada, South America or South Africa would ultimately also serve U.S. destinations.

SundayMonday Business on 09/27/2015