Travel volumes in Europe are still desperately low. But the latest results from Norwegian show some signs of improvement. Passenger numbers for March are up around 16% compared to February. But this is still down 98% from one year ago.
Operating results for March
Norwegian released its traffic figures for March on April 9th, and they present some interesting results. First, the bad news. Passenger volume, not unexpectedly, remains very low. Capacity for March 2021 was down 97% compared to March 2020, and total passenger traffic was down 98%.
But, as a positive sign, passenger volume is increasing. Norwegian carried 71,399 passengers in March. This is up from 61,374 in February.
Load factors have also improved. March saw a load factor of 42.7%, up from 38.1% in February and 35.9% in January. But this is still far from its rate back in March 2020 of 71.6% (and a rolling 12-month rate at that time of 86.7%).
Jacob Schram, CEO of Norwegian, said in a statement:
“The effects of the pandemic continue to impact our operations due to government restrictions on travel to reduce infection levels. However, the clear progress that has been made with vaccine schemes, and other measures aimed at a gradual opening up of society, means that I am optimistic with regards to increased activity and demand both in Norway and the rest of Europe going forward.”
Mostly domestic flights
Not surprisingly, the majority of this traffic was on domestic routes in Norway. And the airline explained the increase as due to increased volume over the Easter holidays. Nevertheless, with warmer months approaching and the possibility of more travel within Europe, the trend could continue.
In terms of aircraft, Norwegian operated nine 737-800s in March. This is up from eight in January and February. And although schedules are down, reliability is great. It operated 99.4% of scheduled flights in March (this is also up from January and February, with 96.8% operated then).
Plenty of changes for Norwegian
The situation will look very different for Norwegian as flying hopefully resumes further. It was already heavily burdened with debt before the pandemic. It went on to post overall losses of $2.6 billion in 2020. And it entered bankruptcy protection in Ireland in November 2020 and is also undergoing restructuring in Norway.
This restructuring has already led to the airline dropping its long-haul network. It has retired its Boeing 787 aircraft and cut the overall narrowbody fleet in half – from 103 to just 53 aircraft by the end of 2021.
The 737 MAX will also not return to service. Norwegian canceled orders for 92 737 MAXs last June, citing its financial struggles. And in March this year, it confirmed that all 18 of its aircraft would not return to service – particularly significant as Norwegian was the first European customer for the 737 MAX. Orders with Airbus have also been canceled.
The smaller airline that emerges will focus on Nordic and European routes. CEO of Norwegian, Jacob Schram, said of this:
“Our short-haul network has always been the backbone of Norwegian and will form the basis of a future resilient business model.”
Short-haul and low-cost could be a good model for post-pandemic flying. Do you think positive results will continue at Norwegian as flying hopefully increases? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.