Norwegian Air CEO Steps Down as Struggling Carrier Charts New Direction

Jul 12, 2019

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Norwegian Air co-founder and CEO Bjørn Kjos is stepping down as the head of the company.

“Leaving the exciting future tasks to a new CEO and taking on a new challenge as an advisor, is a set-up I am very happy with,” Kjos said in a Thursday statement announcing the change. “I look forward to spending more time working on specific strategic projects that are crucial to the future success of Norwegian.”

No immediate successor was named for Kjos, who will retain a role as an advisor to the airline’s chairman. But the end of his 17-year run as CEO signals a potential change in direction for the European low-cost carrier, which has grown at breakneck speed during the past decade.

Related: Review: Norwegian Air 787 Economy Class — New York to London

Under his leadership, Norwegian has grown from a small domestic operation under the Norwegian Air Shuttle brand into a global low-cost giant. It’s grown beyond its initial hubs in Scandinavia to include a major base at London Gatwick as well as several other European cities.

From the US, Norwegian has opened a staggering number of new routes to Europe this decade. Earlier this year, Norwegian flew more than 50 nonstop routes between the US and Europe.

Bjoern Kjos, chief executive officer of Norwegian Air Shuttle AS, poses for a photograph with his arms outstretched in front of a Boeing Co. 787 Dreamliner, ahead of the company's inaugural flight to New York from the south terminal at London Gatwick airport in Crawley, U.K., on Thursday, July 3, 2014. Norwegian Air Shuttle will begin flying to New York from London's Gatwick airport today as the Scandinavian discount carrier seeks to establish Europe's first viable low-cost long-haul operation. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
(Photo by Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The airline also has opened a Norwegian-branded subsidiary in Argentina, which is now looking into launching flights to the US.

But the departure of Kjos comes amid questions about Norwegian’s long-term outlook, with its aggressive growth saddling its balance sheet with debt and regular money-losing quarters. Norwegian also faced issues beyond its control, including engine issues with its Boeing 787 Dreamliners and broader problems with Boeing’s 737 MAX that has forced it to unexpectedly take planes out of service.

A number of analysts have routinely predicted the carrier couldn’t continue, though so far Norwegian has done just that. Norwegian also has been frequently mentioned as a possible takeover target, and it last year reject overtures from the parent company of British Airways and Iberia.

Against that backdrop, Norwegian has begun to focus more on profitability and less on growth. Cost-cutting measures also have been implemented, including a 2018 agreement to sell five Airbus A320neos to help pay down debt.

In the US market, it’s axed flights to the French Caribbean and adjusted other routes in an effort to shore up its bottom line. Norwegian acknowledged the strategy shift in Thursday announcement about Kjos.

Featured image by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

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