After three years of struggle and frustration, it appears Norwegian Air's long battle to obtain a US ‘Foreign Air Carrier Permit' for its Irish long-haul subsidiary has succeeded.
“We are very pleased that the American authorities have finally given our EU company permission to fly to the United States,” CEO Bjørn Kjos told the Dagbladet newspaper. “This means that Norwegian may continue its global expansion with full force and open new routes to exciting destinations worldwide.”
Earlier this year the US Department of Transportation ruled temporarily in favour of granting a permit, but it has still taken more than three years for the award of a permanent permit. In the last few weeks, EU regulators became increasingly frustrated at the lack of action from the US Department of Transport. Norwegian has been flying between Europe and the USA thanks to a permit granted to its Norwegian subsidiary, but the granting of a permanent license to its international company now means Kjos' expansion plans can proceed at pace.
Unions and other airlines have complained bitterly about the airline's business model, claiming that using four operating certificates rather than one, and employees from low-cost countries such as Thailand gives them an unfair advantage.
Transitioning the successful low-cost model into a long-haul network has also not been without its problems, with frequent stories of passengers stranded at airports for 24 hours or more because of a lack of spare airplanes. The company has also been criticised in Norway, accused by some of creating an Irish subsidiary in part to avoid paying tax and social security in Norway.
Although the Irish subsidiary has now been granted a permit, Norwegian is still waiting for news on an application for its UK subsidiary.
Where next for Norwegian long-haul?
On its intercontinental flights, Norwegian uses twelve Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft, with 32 more on order. The plane is one of the most technologically advanced currently in the skies, and offers 291 or 344 seats depending on the model. Unlike its competitors, Norwegian charges a base fare and on-board services (including food and drinks) must be purchased.
The current network links Oslo with direct flights to Bangkok, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York JFK and Puerto Rico. It is expected that many more destinations will be added to the list over the coming years now that the US permit has been granted. Interesting possibilities include the north-west (Seattle/Portland) and the Norwegian-American dominated Midwest.