Norwegian Air blames £134m loss on Boeing 737 Max grounding and engine issues

Simon Calder
Ground stop: a Norwegian Air Boeing 737 MAX 8 named for the aviation pioneer Sir Freddie Laker: Norwegian

The troubled budget airline, Norwegian, has reported another year of losses – blaming the worldwide grounding of the Boeing 737 Max after two fatal crashes, and issues with Rolls Royce engine fitted to its Boeing 787 aircraft.

Norwegian has a large base at Gatwick, where it is the third-largest airline behind easyJet and British Airways. It also flies out of Edinburgh and Manchester.

During 2019 Norwegian made a loss of NOK1.61bn (£134m) and carried 36 million passengers – a loss per person of around £3.70.

In contrast, easyJet made a profit of £4.50 per passenger in its most recent full financial year.

Norwegian said: “Year on year, unit revenue increased in nine consecutive months, driven by maturing routes and the optimisation of Norwegian's global route network.

“Figures were negatively impacted by the global grounding of the Boeing 737 Max aircraft and ongoing Rolls-Royce engine issues.”

The airline has 18 Boeing 737 Max aircraft. It expects to return them to service in September 2020.

Meanwhile it has been chartering in additional planes to cover for the narrow-bodied 737 and for several long-haul 787s that are grounded because of engine maintenance issues.

It is not clear how much compensation Norwegian has received from Boeing or Rolls-Royce.

Bjorn Kjos, founder and chief executive of Norwegian, stepped down in July 2019. Earlier in the year IAG – parent company of British Airways – withdrew a £1bn bid for Norwegian, which Mr Kjos regarded as undervaluing the airline.

Geir Karlsen, the chief financial officer, said: “2019 marked a new flight path for Norwegian as the company changed its strategic focus from growth to profitability.”

“Throughout 2020, we will turn challenges into opportunities.”

Norwegian says it is expecting to cut about one-seventh of its flights in 2020. It has not said which routes will be affected.