Thursday 14 January 2021 4:45 pm

Norwegian Air scraps long-haul flights, ditches Gatwick base and cuts 2,000 staff in bid for survival

Norwegian Air won’t return to its London Gatwick base after the Covid-19 pandemic subsides, it said today, as it permanently canned all long-haul flights and slashed thousands of jobs.

The low-cost carrier said that it would focus on its short-haul European network for 2021, cutting its fleet from 140 planes to 50.

The budget carrier, which was one of the first no-frills airlines to fly long-haul, has not flown from its London Gatwick base since the first UK lockdown.

Read more: Norwegian Air granted creditor protection by Irish court

According to pilots’ union Balpa, all 300 UK-based pilots will lose their jobs as a result of the decision to close the network.

Close to 2,000 staff will be cut overall, the carrier said, with just over 1,000 roles at Gatwick going

It will also look to reduce its debt pile to 20 billion krone (£1.7bn), and raise four to five billion krone in new capital.

Norwegian added that it had restarted talks with its government about state involvement in the plan.

Bases in the US, Italy, and France will also not return.

In November the airline was forced to file for bankruptcy protection after the government declined to give it more support.

The plan is subject to approval in Irish court, where the carrier has sought protection from bankruptcy proceedings.

Chief executive Jacob Schram said: “Our short haul network has always been the backbone of Norwegian and will form the basis of a future resilient business model.”

If successful, the airline will increase its fleet size to 70 planes in 2022.

Before the Open: Get the jump on the markets with our early morning newsletter

Back to basics

The decision to cut long-haul flights marks a radical change in direction for the carrier, which revolutionised the airline market by introducing long-distance flights at short-haul equivalent prices.

However, doing so came at a price, with Norwegian’s debt pile growing ever larger as its global network increased.

Now, with most long-haul flights still grounded due to the ongoing pandemic, the airline has been forced to change direction.

“Under these circumstances a long haul operation is not viable for Norwegian and these operations will not continue”, it said in a statement. 

Balpa general secretary Brian Strutton said: “This news will be personally devastating for all Gatwick-based crew.

Read more: Norwegian Air plans share sale in bid to survive

“The airline has struggled in the face of the ongoing Covid crisis, despite the combined efforts of all the company’s recognised trade unions, who have worked tirelessly to remain flexible and accommodating.

“The airline has failed for several reasons but there can be no blame apportioned to the pilot, crew or other staff groups.