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SAS' new foreign bases in London & Spain show rare innovative thinking for a legacy airline

On 01-Feb-2017 SAS announced that it is to establish a new AOC in Ireland, with operational bases in London and Spain. It has yet to specify the airports that will become its first bases outside its three Scandinavian home countries. SAS is following a course established by Norwegian, apparently forgetting its previous objections to its LCC rival's approach.

Indeed, it seems that SAS' move is a pragmatic response to intense competition from LCCs, particularly from Norwegian. According to SAS' 2016 Annual Report, 65% of its ASKs compete with LCCs. Scandinavia's high labour costs are a significant handicap in competing with airlines that have bases outside the region.

Spain and UK are its two biggest markets outside Scandinavia, with London Heathrow its biggest non home airport. After years of cost reduction programmes – also years of initiatives aimed at enhancing the appeal of SAS' product and brand to its core target market of Scandinavia's frequent flyers – a bolder step is needed. SAS will be a very rare example of a European legacy airline with bases outside its home market, more than 20 years after market liberalisation presented the opportunity.

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