Is Russia the next frontier for Norwegian?
Like every November, the halls of the Renaissance Moscow Monarch Center fills with the top brass of the Russian commercial aviation industry.
This was the 2017 edition of the annual Wings of the Future conference, the top event for the commercial aviation industry in Russia and neighbouring countries.
This year one of the highlights was the presence of a rather unexpected visitor: Bjorn Kjos, CEO of Norwegian, the emerging star of the European airline industry.
As one of the movers and shakers of the industry, and with quite a few disrupted markets behind him, Mr. Kjos gets plenty of attention wherever he goes and this time was no exception.
You may have noticed that Russia is notoriously absent from Norwegian’s route map. Also, the airline was involved in a sort of geopolitical wrangle over the overflight rights. A rather strategic matter for Norwegian, since Asia is one of the core markets for its low cost long haul operation.
But this may be about to change soon.
Mr.Kjos, who used to fly fighter jets for the Royal Norwegian Air Force during the Cold War, did not refer to these longstanding issues a single time, instead, he appeared full of praise for Russia’s economic and tourism potential.
What’s more, a map of prospective routes was displayed during the presentation, showing potential new air links between several of Norwegian’s bases in Europe and the Russian cities of St.Petersburg, Moscow and Sochi.
The city of St.Petersburg, conveniently located close to the airline’s Scandinavian home markets, was particularly singled out as a “the gateway to Russia” (in fact this is the exact reason why tsar Peter the Great built the city in the early 18th Century)
He also mentioned Vladivostok as the other, Eastern, Russian gateway, but, in all fairnees, it is harder to see how Russia’s Far Eastern city would fit into any of Norwegian’s expansion plans.
The big obstacle remaining in order to fulfill these plans: the need for governmental permits (something that I suspect this must have been on the agenda too during his Moscow stay alongside the aforementioned Europe to Asia overflight rights)
A couple of other interesting remarks by Mr.Kjos: he does not see Norwegian as a direct competitor to Aeroflot, focused on different markets.
And last, but not least, when asked, in front of a panel that included representatives from Airbus and Irkut, whether he would consider Russian airliners such as the MC-21 and the Superjet for future fleet renewal and growth plans: “If they are (cost) competitive, why not?”