Norwegian Air continued its trend of improving profitability in 2Q2016, when it marked its sixth successive quarter of year-on-year increases in its operating margin. It achieved a further gain in load factor, in spite of double-digit capacity growth. The biggest sources of its growth were its US widebody routes and its operations in Spain, where it has recently opened a seventh base at Palma de Mallorca.
To a large extent its recent positive trend of growing profits has been the result of lower fuel prices. Ex fuel unit costs have been rising for several quarters, outpacing increases in unit revenue. Norwegian has only managed to achieve margin gains because of lower fuel CASK.
Norwegian's operations should become more efficient if it received US foreign airline permits for its Irish and UK subsidiaries, although there is currently little sign that this is about to happen. A new order for 30 A321LRs (part of the A320neo family) should also help Norwegian's unit cost performance and give it more choice over aircraft deployment on shorter long haul routes.
Norwegian plans to add US routes to its Edinburgh base, a development considered in part 1 of this report, adding to its growing list of European long haul bases. However, its Edinburgh-US routes will use new Boeing 737MAX-8 aircraft – its first deployment of narrowbodies for long haul. It has also ordered 30 Airbus A321neoLRs for long haul use. Narrowbodies open up new possibilities for routes between the UK (or other European markets) and the US east coast.
Norwegian also plans to add non-US destinations to its UK long haul network, with details expected during the course of 2017. Norwegian's flexibility to develop its long haul operations from the UK would be improved by the grant of a US foreign carrier permit to its UK-registered subsidiary, Norwegian Air UK.
Norwegian has had to surmount many obstacles to build and grow its global network – which may also include Latin America in 2017, when it will accelerate long haul ASK growth to 60%. However its rapid expansion, currently driven mainly by long haul growth, has led to a rapid increase in debt, and is likely to weigh on unit revenue. Norwegian's undoubted strategic innovation can only be sustained if it is financially successful.