DATA INSIGHT: Norwegian’s fledgling UK business boasts youngest fleet among European LCCs

Norwegian Air UK, the London-based operation of the fast-growing low-cost carrier (LCC), has the youngest fleet among Europe’s expanding LCC sector, according to latest fleet data from CAPA – Centre for Aviation. The market analysis and data specialist’s comprehensive fleet database shows the airline currently has four aircraft under its registration with an average age of just 1.2 years.

The UK entity was founded in November 2015 to support Norwegian’s plans to expand its long-haul activities from London to markets outside of Europe and North America. The operation has its own ‘DI’ IATA and ‘NRS’ ICAO code and alongside the new London Gatwick – Singapore route, will likely have some responsibility for Norwegian’s new London Gatwick – Buenos Aires service, as well as taking over responsibility for some US flying after its secures approval from the US Department of Transportation (DOT) for a foreign air carrier permit.

CHART – Average Fleet Age For Norwegian Air UK In-Service AircraftSource: CAPA – Centre for Aviation

A tentative approval was granted by the agency last week that will finally allow Norwegian’s UK subsidiary to operate low-cost flights between Europe and the US. The award of the licence will allow the airline to more effectively utilise its long-haul fleet – this includes the use of the same aircraft on all long-haul routes such as to markets in the US, Singapore, Argentina and other future long-haul markets it is known to be currently looking at in Asia, Africa and South America.

Norwegian Air UK may be a fledgling operation currently, but the budget carrier has a notable UK presence flying from five airports (London Gatwick, Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh and Belfast) and carrying over 5 million UK passengers each year to more than 50 destinations. It is the third largest airline at London Gatwick, with 4.6 million yearly passengers, and with more than 800 UK-based pilots and cabin crew.

The CAPA fleet database shows Norwegian Air UK fleet currently consists of one Boeing 737-800 and three 797-9 Dreamliners. The 737-800 joined the Norwegian fleet in September 2013 and was transferred to Norwegian Air UK in November 2015 to support the UK licencing application, entering service with the entity in March 2016. The three 787-9s are more recent additions, arriving in March, May and July this year on lease from AerCap and Avolon.

The budget carrier’s Irish operation Norwegian Air International has the fifth youngest LCC fleet in Europe with its 75-strong fleet (64 737-800s, four 737MAX-8s, three 787-8s and four 787-9s) having an average age of 3.0 years.  Meanwhile, the main Norwegian mainline operation currently has 57 aircraft (52 737-800s and five 787-8s) with an average age of 4.6 years. Together, the Norwegian Group has a further 240+ aircraft on order including the last of its 737-800s, more 737MAX-8s and 787-9s and Airbus A320neo and A321neoLR equipment.

CHART – Norwegian Group Aircraft Order PipelineSource: CAPA – Centre for Aviation

The decision by Lufthansa to develop its low-cost operations under the former regional and charter brand of Eurowings rather than its Germanwings entity means the Dusseldorf-based airline now has the second youngest LCC fleet in Europe at just 1.8 years. This positioning follows the introduction of 17 new A320s since May 2016, growing its fleet to 23 aircraft, and is supported by a contract for airberlin to provide wet-leasing flying services, which keep the assets out of the Eurowings fleet.

Eurowings’ new sister venture in Austria, Eurowings Europe, is also operating with a young aircraft fleet at just 3.0 years. The carrier operates eight A320s out of Vienna and has just recently celebrated its first anniversary of operations. It is expected to expand its fleet over the next 12 months and also bring some standardisation – the CAPA fleet database shows that six of its A320s are CFM International CFM56-powered versions of the A320, while two older aircraft are powered by International Aero Engines V2500s. In comparison to the young Eurowings operations, the Germanwings fleet of 41 A319s and five A320s has an average age of 13.3 years, among the oldest for LCCs in Europe.

CHART – Youngest Average LCC Fleet Age in EuropeSource: The Blue Swan Daily and CAPA – Centre for Aviation

Icelandic carrier WOWair currently has the third youngest LCC fleet at 2.7 years having started to add its first A320neo Family aircraft into what was already a relatively young fleet. In fact it has been the arrival of a seven year-old A330-300 widebody, one of three of the type it now operates, that has inflated its average fleet age. The airline introduced its first A320neo in April this year and its first A321neo in June.

Russian carrier Pobeda, a subsidiary of Aeroflot Russian Airlines, currently has the fourth youngest LCC fleet at 2.8 years. After the national carrier’s Dobrolet operation was black listed by the European Union in 2014 as part of increased sanctions with Russia, Pobeda was formed to operate low-cost domestic flights. It currently serves a network of 30 destinations, including 20 within Russia and international flights to eight countries with a fleet of 12 737-800s. A further eight are on order for delivery over the remainder of 2017 and 2018.

CHART – Oldest Average LCC Fleet Age in EuropeSource: The Blue Swan Daily and CAPA – Centre for Aviation

At the opposite end of the spectrum, the data shows that it is Romanian-headquartered LCC Blue Air that has the oldest LCC fleet in Europe with its 29 737s having an average age of 21.1 years. Although the airline operates 12 ‘Next-Generation’ variants and has 737MAX aircraft on order, its fleet is currently dominated by Classic versions of the single-aisle airliner – two 737-300s, nine 737-400s and six 737-500s. This includes a 737-300 approaching almost 30 years in service flying previously for United Airlines and Brazilian LCC GOL before joining the Blue Air fleet in May 2008.