Norwegian Air Argentina to operate international and domestic routes with bases in Buenos Aires, Córdoba and Mendoza

Norwegian has launched its first long haul services from Spain with three US cities – Los Angeles, New York and Oakland (commenced Jun-2017) – and plans one more – Miami, set for Aug-2017. Its next long haul route from Barcelona is likely to be Buenos Aires, but this reflects only a small part of Norwegian’s ambitions in Argentina.

In early 2017 Norwegian established Norwegian Air Argentina and the group board approved its plans in May-2017. It hopes to build a considerable operation, with both international and domestic flights. Norwegian is hiring administrative staff in Argentina and will start to recruit crew in late summer. Pending regulatory approval, the first new routes will be announced and available for sale by year end 2017.

Ole Christian Melhus, CEO of Norwegian Air Argentina and previously assistant flight operations director for the parent company Norwegian Air Shuttle, has described Argentina as “an interesting market with great potential that fits Norwegian’s global strategy very well, combining affordable domestic and international flights”.

The new operation will be another significant progression of Norwegian’s unprecedented global strategy.

Initial fleet of six narrowbodies, rising to 50 narrowbodies and 20 widebodies after eight years

Norwegian has big ambitions for the new airline. It is understood that Norwegian Air Argentina is planning to launch operations with six Boeing 737 aircraft, rising to 10 by the end of 2017.

It is planning a total fleet of 15 after one year, comprising 11 narrowbodies (737s) and four widebodies (787s), and it is targeting a fleet of 70 aircraft by its eighth year (50 737s and 20 787s).

These numbers are substantial in the context of the existing market in Argentina.

According to the CAPA Fleet Database, there is a total of 132 commercial aircraft based in Argentina as at 19-Jun-2017 and the largest operator, Aerolineas Argentinas, has a fleet of 56. The nation’s airlines have a combined total of 33 aircraft on order.

Norwegian Air Argentina

Argentina’s growth potential attracted Norwegian initially on the basis of operating routes between Europe and the Latin American country. However, regulatory constraints prompted Norwegian to establish an airline based in Argentina. An agreement between Argentina and Spain limits flights between the two countries to companies with headquarters in either nation.

Once the idea to found a new Argentinean airline had been adopted by Norwegian, the wider opportunities, including domestic and regional international services, added to the appeal. A network that combines shorter and longer stage lengths also gives Norwegian more opportunities to maximise its aircraft utilisation – an important part of its model.

Norwegian Air Argentina is thought to be planning bases in Buenos Aires, Córdoba and Mendoza, eventually employing up to 3,500 personnel.

It is expected to use Ezeiza International Airport, 22km south of Buenos Aires, as its main hub and for international flights.

However, domestic operators focus more on the more central Aeroparque Jorge Newberry Airport, 2km northeast of downtown. Norwegian is thought to be planning to use Jorge Newberry for domestic services, although this may not sit perfectly with plans to offer connections from/to its long haul international network.

Argentina will be another major step in Norwegian’s quest to become a global airline

Unlike almost any other airline or airline group in the world, Norwegian’s thinking has not been constrained by the airline industry’s widespread limits on market access and airline ownership.

These restrictions have, at times, slowed Norwegian’s plans (for example when the US delayed the grant of rights to Norwegian Air International), but it has been increasingly bold and imaginative in finding ways around hurdles that historically have prevented the evolution of a truly global airline.

See related report: Norwegian Air’s NAI at last gets final approval of US rights in a boost to long haul growth

In addition to its bases in Scandinavia, Norwegian has bases in the UK, Spain and the US. Its London-Singapore service will become the world’s longest LCC route when it launches in Sep-2017, and this will help it to become the world’s second largest long haul LCC (after AirAsia X).

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Norwegian’s plans for Argentina will give it its first integrated domestic and international operation outside Europe. This will mark another major step in its quest to become the closest thing possible to a truly global airline.