Bjorn Kjos, the 71-year-old founder and CEO of Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA, is jovial this late summer night after arriving at Stewart International Airport from Bergen, Norway.
Just three months after entering the New York market with his fare-cutting long-haul airline, Kjos was looking to add more Boeing 737 MAXs – 108 MAXs and 42 Dreamliners, he said – and expand the airline’s destinations. A few days later on Sept. 22, Kjos was
probably a bit more jovial as the U.S. Department of Transportation had given his U.K. subsidiary the approval to fly to U.S. cities as well, allowing his airline to expand at London’s Gatwick Airport. Norwegian’s flights from the U.K. to the U.S. had been handled by its Norway-based mother carrier and its unit in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Norwegian Air’s expanding arc is pushing Stewart Airport skyward as well.
Ed Harrison, general manager of the airport run by The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, was smiling after meeting Kjos on the tarmac Sept.18.
“This is a stress-free environment for aviation to grow,” Harrison said. “And our strategic aviation assets that we have in the New York metropolitan area, Stewart will play an important part in the growth of the region.”
With Stewart, “The traveling public has options to avoid traffic, to avoid congestion,” he said referring to the problems encountered by those using Newark, John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports.
“For airlines to consider Stewart Airport as the low-cost entry point into the New York metropolitan area,” he said referring to landing and gate fees, “this is the airport of choice.”
Harrison’s comments are borne out by Stewart’s numbers.
The airport’s passenger volume in July jumped by 111.4 percent from June numbers – the highest growth rate among Port Authority airports – while handling 29,362 additional passengers.
The growth was led by Norwegian’s arrival from Edinburgh, Scotland on the evening of June 15, heralding the start of scheduled international flights. During the rest of June, Norwegian carried 4,490 travelers and added 5,952 seats.
Since then, it has added flights to Dublin and Shannon in Ireland, Belfast in Northern Ireland and Bergen in Norway.
“We hope to fly more destinations in Europe and also in the states,” Kjos said, without disclosing specific expansion plans. “Obviously we are already looking at many more destinations here in the states,” he said.
Norwegian already flies to 14 airports across the U.S.
As for the current routes to and from Stewart, Kjos said they are “working very well.”
“That was actually a new test for us. Would it work to fly a single-aisle (aircraft)? And with the new MAX aircraft from Boeing, that aircraft had the range to do it and it has worked out perfectly,” he said.
“We can fly from Bergen or Dublin to New York with a single aisle 737 MAX. We’re the first one in Europe to fly it.”
The two other regional Northeast airports into which Norwegian flies single-aisle, narrow body MAXs are Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Connecticut and T.F. Green Airport in Warwick, Rhode Island.
“Providence and Hartford are going very well. Providence is more of a seasonal operation and New York is much more of a year-round operation,” Kjos said.
When asked about how Freddie Laker’s Skytrain, which had a short lifespan in the low-cost, long-haul market, Kjos pointed out that “the internet age wasn’t there.”
“Most of our tickets are sold over the internet; 80 percent we sell over the internet. He (Laker) had to rely on travel agencies and they were owned by his competitors. It wasn’t easy for him. He didn’t have the benefit of flying a modern Dreamliner. So it’s a totally different ball game today.”
“We could not have done this without the new airplanes like the Boeing,” said Kjos.
Earlier in the summer, Norwegian placed an image of Laker on the tail fin of a new Boeing 737 MAX, just as it does for other personalities. The maiden flight of the Laker Skytrain from Gatwick to JFK occurred on Sept. 26, 1977.
Norwegian is third behind Ryanair and Easy Jet in the European low-cost short-haul market.
Asked who will imitate his airline and begin low-cost, long haul flights, Kjos said, “I don’t know, but I hope it’s good for the passengers. Because more flights over the Atlantic will keep prices low, keep fares down. So competition is the best thing that can happen.’