In case you missed the implications of NAI’s approval, or wondered why opponents made such a fuss over something which was already happening (Norwegian adding new routes to the U.S.), the stars have now aligned for the long-awaited partnership between two Irish airlines which will rock the transatlantic market.
In previous interviews, and in various contexts, both Ryanair and Norwegian have confirmed their mutual interest in developing a feeder partnerships.
In 2015, Michael O’Leary explained the availability of long-haul aircraft were a deterrent to Ryanair launching a separate company which would offer transatlantic services. Ryanair had no interest in a mixed fleet operation which would offer both long-haul and short-haul service. Norwegian Air International has access to plenty of Boeing Dreamliners, ordered by the Norwegian Group, as well as a separate company to keep things neat and tidy.
O’Leary also stated the benefits of partnering with other European carriers to provide feeder services.
“I think it’s inevitable as we go forward the next five years, increasingly more and more of the low-fare airlines will be feeding into long-haul carriers. The example I use is will Vueling be feeding into BA at Gatwick, yeah, or at Heathrow, quite probably. Where easyJet and Ryanair could be feeding to Air France or Lufthansa somewhere in Germany or in France, and it’s quite likely,” O’Leary told me during an interview in Copenhagen in February of last year.
Though feeder partnership plans were not (and are not yet) limited to Norwegian, Norwegian has long been considered a favourable partner.
“They’re one of the candidates we have for somehow feeding a long-haul airline. We’re in talks about feeding into their long-haul operations at airports like Gatwick and in Barcelona as well. Now the talks have not been successfully completed yet, but we’re still working them,” O’Leary said at the time.
Partnership possibilities between the two airlines were also confirmed by Bjorn Kjos in an interview this past February.
“We are looking into that,” said Kjos. “We have a large network in Europe and they could complement us, and give us access to even more routes. We can inspire passengers to fly from A to C not just A to B, get passengers all the way there.”
With both airlines reporting favorable load-factors—that is few empty seats onboard—the question becomes what the benefit might be of Ryanair feeding NAI. For both partners, the advantage is to build a strong and extended route network.
Network Gains are Passenger Gains
Ryanair’s various point-to-point routes would keep Norwegian Air International’s long-haul aircraft full on transatlantic services as these new routes launch, but the partnership also creates new opportunities within Europe to get accross the Atlantic from various points of origin, while avoiding overcrowded airports.
Ryanair offers service to a number of popular European destinations directly from Cork Airport, which will be the launch airport for Norwegian’s services to Boston, and one might expect routes offered by both carriers from Cork to grow over the coming year on both sides of the Atlantic.
Ryanair’s Kenny Jacobs confirmed to the Telegraph this weekend that a feeder parntership between the two airlines is advancing and could begin in 2017, so the pieces of the puzzle are falling nicely in place.
As Trevor Buckley, industry watcher and analyst of the Irish aviation website Flying in Ireland says,”Norwegian and Ryanair are leveraging their natural strengths which will be of mutual benefit to both carriers. [The partnership] has the potential to change the Transatlantic competitive landscape providing a new opportunity to the consumer in a market dominated by joint ventures and legacy carriers. It’s a game changer.”
For passengers, this is very good news, not only because fares will be cheaper but because the two airlines together could ultimately provide unparalleled point-to-point options to visit more city pairs.
Of course for competitors, this is not good news, and therefore the big push to keep NAI out of the U.S.. The approval might still get a last-minute reversal from President-elect Donald Trump, if he’s quick to act as soon as he enters office. But otherwise, both Europe and U.S. may expect a rise in tourism as transatlanic travel becomes every bit as convenient and cheap as getting to the Islas Canarias, Lanzarotte, or Malaga, or, really, you choose.
The benefits won’t be one-sided. U.S. low-cost carriers will be encouraged to follow suit. JetBlue has been a supporter of the NAI approval, and has plans to use long-range A321 aircraft to launch transatlantic services.
The growth of long-haul, low-cost competitors in this market, like Iceland’s WOW Air, JetBlue, perhaps one day Southwest, will only serve to encourage more travellers to dip their toes across the water.
If Southwest were to test the range of their 737 MAX aircraft and partner with Ryanair on such a scheme, I suspect all heaven would break loose. (That’s a good thing.)
Irish Aviation is the big winner in all of this, as the country becomes an even more formidable force.