Norwegian at Heathrow: Will It Actually Happen?

Norwegian have been granted six weekly slots at London Heathrow Airport it emerged over the weekend. This equals three return trips per week.

The airline had applied for 14 weekly slots, which would have allowed for at least daily flights.

One Mile At A Time speculates that rather than purchasing slots outright at Heathrow, Norwegian could have applied for them on the off chance and simply won them.

If so, then it could have proven to be a shrewd move for the airline. Norwegian has been struggling for cash for quite a while now. They have been on the verge of slipping into bankruptcy on a number of occasions over the past few years.

Back in 2016, Oman Air paid Air France $75 million for a prime slot pair. If Norwegian simply threw their hat into the ring on the off chance that they would be awarded slots, then it could have paid off handsomely. If Norwegian has no intention of using the six slots it has acquired, then it can sell them off for a tidy profit. Although would this be allowed? Maybe a token few flights operated per week would be enough to secure the slots fully.

Reasons Against Norwegian Launching Flights From Heathrow

It really doesn’t make any sense for Norwegian to launch flights from Heathrow.

First off, the cost. Even if the airline has been awarded these slots for free, there would be substantial cost with launching operations at Heathrow. The airline will have to take out a contract for ground handling. It employs its own staff at London Gatwick, but it won’t be cost effective to do the same at Heathrow.

Unlike Gatwick, there is a lot more competition at Heathrow. You have multiple British Airways flights to many destinations on a daily basis. Trans Atlantic, you have Delta, American, United, Air Canada and Virgin Atlantic. Heading East, you have Emirates, Qatar Airways, Etihad, Turkish Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific. All of whom offer connections to further afield. Within Europe, you have most national flag carriers. Therefore, Norwegian with their three weekly flights, at pretty awful times will barely make a dent in the market. Unless they sell tickets at rock bottom prices. But how sustainable is that?

Sure, Norwegian has a fairly good route network throughout Europe to provide their own connections. But all of those flights are from Gatwick. How many people will be willing to step off an overnight flight and make the trip around the M25 at their own expense in order to potentially save a few pounds?

Also worth considering is that initially, the airline applied for far more slots. Enough for a daily round trip. As they were only granted less than half of what they originally wanted, could they scrap the plans they had? If they are keen on pushing through with their original plan, they would have to lease slots from another airline. This would be a costly practice though, and for an airline that isn’t in the best financial shape, would this be a wise move?

Reasons For Norwegian Launching Flights From Heathrow

Of course, Norwegian could have full intentions of using the slots it’s applied for.

There is the suggestion that airlines can’t simply apply for slots with the sole intention of selling them. It’s a case of use it or lose it. Now the airline has been awarded these slots, they will have to use them.

The 14 slots would have meant a daily flight to somewhere (7 takeoff slots, 7 landing slots). As Heathrow is widely regarded as London’s business airport, it wouldn’t have been a bad bet to suggest a daily New York JFK flight could have been launched. As it stands, 3 weekly flights is a start. And who knows, with some clever scheduling, flights to Singapore or Buenos Aires (already Norwegian destinations) could work out. If/when Heathrow gets a third runway, simple supply and demand says that slots will be easier to come by. Therefore getting a foot in the door now to test the waters wouldn’t be a bad idea.

As reported last week, Norwegian will exit the long haul market from both Sweden and Denmark early next year, so they will have a couple of Boeing 787 aircraft at a loose end. Maybe that announcement was the start of a larger plan coming together?

Who Said Anything About Longhaul?

All this is assuming that Norwegian use their Heathrow slots for long haul flights. But there’s nothing to say exactly how they can use them. Of course, having just three weekly short haul flights wouldn’t make any financial sense for the airline at all. But if they wanted to base a 737 at Heathrow and fly three times weekly to Gatwick, then there wouldn’t be anything in the rules to prevent them from doing so. In my opinion though, it would be HIGHLY unlikely for them to be used on short haul flights. That is unless they have been awarded a highly lucrative contract from a major corporation to make it worth their while.

Who Else Has Applied For Heathrow Slots?

It wasn’t just Norwegian that applied for coveted Heathrow Slots. A number of other airlines tried, but eventually failed to secure flights to Heathrow.

These included:

  • Air Bridge Cargo (6 Weekly slots)
  • Arkia (6)
  • Aurigny (56)
  • China Airlines (14)
  • Indigo (42)
  • JetBlue (70)
  • LoganAir (42)
  • Luxair (26)
  • SpiceJet (14)
  • Vistara (14)
  • WestJet (14)

So a rather interesting selection of airlines applying for Heathrow slots. Some seem a little far fetched, such as SpiceJet. Where as WestJet and China Airlines I could see working.

The biggest number of slots applied for came from JetBlue. The US based carrier announced earlier in 2019 that they intend to start flights from New York to London in 2021. Although as of now, they are yet to announce which airport in London they will operate to. Better luck next year…

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