'Politicians shouldn’t listen to them, they should listen to consumers'

The boss of one of Europe’s biggest budget airlines has attacked vested interests that have tried to suppress low-cost competition. 

Bjorn Kjos, founder and CEO of Norwegian, said: “They hate competition, they hate low fares. Politicians shouldn’t listen to them, they should listen to consumers.”

Norwegian currently operates transatlantic flights from Gatwick. But it has faced stiff opposition for its plans to launch low-cost links from Scotland and Ireland to the US, from both airlines and unions. They have questioned the legitimacy of its Irish subsidiary, Norwegian Air International, claiming it is a "flag of convenience" model.

When President Trump took office, the US Air Line Pilots’ Association issued a statement demanding he should overturn a Department of Transportation approval for the network: “The new administration should immediately move to reverse the DOT’s decision regarding Norwegian Air International and revoke or suspend the foreign air carrier permit.”

The union said Norwegian had set up an Irish subsidiary “to use flight crews employed under contracts governed by the laws of various Asian countries, including Singapore and Thailand.”

Speaking at the Skift Forum Europe in London, Mr Kjos said: “The consumer is always right. They want to travel for low fares and spend their money in the US or Europe. Don’t listen to groups who are trying to preserve an old-fashioned regime.”

Norwegian will fly from Edinburgh, Belfast, Cork, Shannon and Dublin to Providence in Rhode Island, close to Boston; Hartford, Connecticut; and Stewart International, about 90 minutes by road from New York City. The airline is the European launch customer for the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, a long-haul variant of the world’s most successful plane.

Mr Kjos said: “It has incredibly low operating costs. We fly it into very low-cost airports. Then you are not paying heavy charges, so we can offer the tickets for much, much less.”

He also cast doubt on “legacy” airlines’ plans for long-haul, low-cost subsidiaries. British Airways’ parent, IAG, recently launched Level, flying transatlantic from Barcelona using Iberia flight crew, while the Lufthansa Group plans a long-haul network for its Eurowings subsidiary. 

The Norwegian boss said: “You don’t get a low-cost airline by painting the aircraft. A lot of carriers have tried that in the past. It doesn’t work.”

At the time of the launch of level, IAG's chief executive Willie Walsh, said it would " bring a stylish and modern approach to flying at prices that are even more affordable". He said: "It will complement our existing airline portfolio and further diversify our current customer base."

Rafat Ali, the founder and CEO of Skift, told The Independent: “Low-cost long-haul is a game changer. 

“I think it’s changing the world, just as low-cost changed the short-haul world, when lots of people starting flying for the first time in history.”

The travel association, Abta, has today called for a swift agreement on flying rights ahead of Brexit.

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