Norwegian Puts Providence, Hartford, Newburgh Flights on Sale

Norwegian Air International, the Irish subsidiary of Norwegian Air Shuttle, recently announced its intentions to begin flights to Hartford, CT, Newburgh, NY, and Providence, RI.

After much controversy, including allegations from U.S. bodies such as the ALPA that Norwegian was setting up a “flag of convenience” in Ireland, the USDOT belatedly approved Norwegian’s application in early December 2016. Yet it was more than two months before the carrier finally put its flights on sale – with limited seats going for as low as $65 one way – on February 23, 2017.

The flights will be operated by Boeing 737 MAX aircraft on these routes:

Providence, RI to:

  • Belfast, Northern Ireland
  • Cork, Ireland
  • Dublin, Ireland
  • Edinburgh, Scotland
  • Shannon, Ireland

Hartford, CT to Edinburgh, Scotland

Newburgh, NY to:

  • Belfast, Northern Ireland
  • Dublin, Ireland
  • Edinburgh, Scotland
  • Shannon, Ireland

Shortly after receiving USDOT approval, Norwegian announced that, unlike its Boeing 787-800 flights to Copenhagen, London Gatwick, and Oslo, it didn’t plan to utilize Boston Logan and New York JFK. Using a 737 MAX – which has significantly less capacity than a 787-800 – “wouldn’t be profitable” at those airports, as they incur high operation fees that would need to be offset by high ticket prices given the 737 MAX’s relative capacity. However, by utilizing smaller alternative airports rather than major airports, Norwegian predicts that it will minimize overhead (through less and lower fees) and pass on savings to its customers.

Having already chosen Newburgh as its alternative option for the Tri-State Area, Norwegian announced its intention to choose between T.F. Green in Providence and Portsmouth, NH’s Portsmouth International at Pease. I opined that the logical choice would be Providence, as it boasts a significantly more populated catchment area, easy public transport, and much better connection potential. While Pease has a less-congested airport that could be home to a dedicated operation, the weight of the factors that favor Providence seemed to make the Rhode Island capital the most likely candidate.

Meanwhile, Hartford is an interesting case. Though not mentioned in the initial list of potential Norwegian destinations, the Connecticut capital is one of the largest cities in New England. While its catchment area doesn’t boast the same population as that of Providence’s, Bradley International is a convenient option for many Western Massachusetts travelers, particularly those in the vicinity of I-91.

Moreover, Bradley recently resurrected transatlantic service with Aer Lingus service to Dublin on 757-200s – a city and airline combination that I predicted when it was first rumored that Bradley had landed transatlantic service. And though it was backed by guarantees from the Connecticut government, it appears that the route has done well enough to serve as an indication that transatlantic service is a viable option. Thus, adding another city to Hartford’s growing list of destinations is perhaps a prudent move, particularly considering the minimal risk and low overhead costs of inaugurating a single 737 MAX route rather than the plethora of flights that will start serving Newburgh and Providence.

While there is significant excitement surrounding these new developments, a number of uncertainties remain. Above all, I’ve profiled what I think are the two major questions:

1. Will these fares be enough to generate new demand? Norwegian consistently speaks about its belief that it won’t just attract existing travelers, but will encourage people who haven’t previously ventured overseas to travel to Europe, much in the same way that the 747 created a surplus of supply that made air travel cheaper in the 1970s.

2. Are European travelers willing to fly into alternate airports that are an hour away from the cities they serve? While airports like JFK and Heathrow are a bit far from downtown New York and London, respectively, they are much closer to their respective downtowns than Newburgh or Luton. I would assume that Americans flying to London would, for example, be reticent to fly into Luton instead of Heathrow, so I am curious if Europeans will be equally leery, particularly given the public transit quality (or lack thereof) in the United States.

I am rather skeptical on both fronts, but I can’t say that I have a genuine prediction for how these routes will perform. Like many others, I am intrigued to see how it all plays out.

Cork Popped: NAX to pick from PSM and PVD as alternatives to BOS

Just days after Norwegian received DOT approval for flights between Boston Logan and Cork, Ireland, the carrier made a big announcement. Instead of flying out of Logan, it will fly its Boeing 737-800s out of either Portsmouth, NH or Providence, RI. Norwegian will continue to operate 787s between Boston and Copenhagen, London Gatwick, and Oslo.

The chosen location would be the carrier’s second base to open in the U.S., after the announcement that NAX would open a base at Stewart International Airport in Newburgh, NY (SWF), around an hour north of New York City.

The Reasoning

Norwegian’s explanation for its decision is quite interesting, in my view. “To operate the Boeing 737s … from a primary airport [such as Boston] becomes much more expensive with a small aircraft type than a larger aircraft type due to limited passenger numbers,” Norwegian spokesman Anders Lindstrom said.

A Cost-Benefit Analysis

While both airports are approximately an hour from Boston, each has its own unique advantages.

Portsmouth’s advantages:

  • Pease has just one airline who operates scheduled service to the airport – Allegiant Air, a low-cost carrier whose focus is on domestic operations.
  • Less-congested city (approximately 30,000 people vs. 100,000)
  • Close to Interstate 95
  • Hourly bus service to Boston

Providence’s advantages:

  • It would appear that the catchment area for potential passengers is much larger than Pease
  • MBTA Commuter Rail service to Boston
  • Close to Interstate 95
  • Better potential for connections from other airlines
A Closer Look

There is some business sense in Norwegian’s decision. Certainly, there’s something to be said for lower operating costs, especially considering the airline’s low-cost model. Yet it remains to be seen if passengers are willing to travel an hour or more just to save a few bucks. This will be pertinent, particularly considering the extensive number of ancillary fees that Norwegian charges. Moreover, while negotiations have been going on for some time, it is a bit perplexing that Norwegian waited so long to make this declaration.

Of course, it could well be that these flights are a hit, and are the start of a big transformation. Who knows!