Special Report: Norse Atlantic Airways plots UK growth

The airline’s chief executive Bjorn Tore Larsen tells Ian Taylor about plans to target trade for increased share of sales

Norse Atlantic Airways is geared up for its busiest summer yet at Gatwick airport, where it launched almost two years ago.

The Norwegian-owned carrier now has five aircraft operating to the US from Gatwick, its largest base, and chief executive Bjørn Tore Larsen notes: “Norse Atlantic is now the largest long-haul operator to the US from Gatwick.”

More: Norse Atlantic secures $20m ‘liquidity buffer’ ahead of summer peak

Full Norse Atlantic fleet will not fly until summer 2025

Norse Atlantic records doubling in May passenger numbers

He told Travel Weekly: “We’ve made a significant investment in our UK airline at Gatwick.”

The airline, sponsor of this US‑themed special edition of Travel Weekly, operates twice a day from Gatwick to New York JFK, daily to Orlando and Miami, and six times a week to Los Angeles. It will add three flights a week to Las Vegas from September.

Larsen described demand for the flights as “strong”, saying “we’re seeing a lot of people travelling”, although he acknowledges the exchange rate of the dollar has produced “a bit of a stronger point of sale in the US than the UK at the beginning of the summer”.

Norse Atlantic operates an all-Boeing 787 fleet, with what Larsen describes as “a good premium product with affordable fares”. He said: “It’s between premium economy and business class, with a 43-inch seat pitch. A flatbed is not part of our offer, but Norse Premium is still a great product. We focus on you getting more for your money.”

The airline launched from its first base, Oslo, barely two years ago and is established in New York, from where it operates to six destinations in Europe: Paris, Rome, Berlin and Athens, as well as London and Oslo. An airline spokesperson suggested: “Very often, we’re the best-priced airline to Europe in the US.”

However, Larsen said: “We call Gatwick ‘home’.”

Additional routes

The carrier currently sells “about two-thirds” of seats direct online but Larsen is keen to see more bookings through the trade, noting: “We take group bookings through tour operators and travel agents.”

He said: “Starting an airline always takes time, [but] our traffic numbers are pointing in the right direction and, as a listed company, we see a lot of [investor] interest.”

Norse Atlantic will operate 12 Boeing 787 Dreamliners this summer, up from 10 at the start of the year, and will increase its fleet to 15 next summer.

Larsen added: “We’re looking at some additional routes.”

The airline operates two cabins – Economy and Premium – and three fares (Light, Classic and Flextra) offering differing baggage allowances, meal service and levels of flexibility.

Norse Atlantic will add scheduled flights from Gatwick beyond the US this autumn, with three services a week to Cape Town due to operate from October 28.


Carrier’s first UK head of sales starts work

A dedicated UK sales manager took charge of Norse Atlantic Airways’ relations with the trade this week.

Andrew Fish (pictured) joined as UK head of sales on July 1 as the low-cost long-haul carrier reconfirmed its commitment to the trade.

Chief executive Bjørn Tore Larsen said: “We were not focused enough on tour operators, travel agents and other industry players in the UK [until now] and we want to do that. We can be a great partner for travel agents. We see increasing interest and Andrew will bring more focus [to the trade].”

Larsen added: “We’ll look to make deals that benefit agents and we would love to welcome travel people on board our aircraft to show off our product and people.”

Fish most recently worked at Air Astana and Finnair and has experience at BMI British Midland and Gulf Air, hotel group Premier Inn and travel management company HRG.

Confirming the appointment, the carrier’s chief commercial officer Bard Nordhagen said: “We’re committed to working closely with the travel trade.”

Larsen has worked in the travel trade himself. He told Travel Weekly: “My first business was a travel agency I set up in 1986 and sold in 1993. I have an affinity for the travel industry.”

Founder snapped up aircraft at ‘low prices’

Bjørn Tore Larsen, chairman and founder of Norway’s OSM Group, founded Norse Atlantic Airways in early 2021 after he was offered the chance to lease a fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft at knockdown rates.

The aircraft were previously operated by Norwegian Air, which ceased long-haul flying during the pandemic and restructured as a short-haul-only carrier, having previously operated a growing long‑haul network from Gatwick.

OSM is a major global shipping management group and an OSM subsidiary supplied crew for Norwegian.

That existing relationship and Norse Atlantic’s use of former Norwegian aircraft, together with initial minority investments by former Norwegian chief executive Bjørn Kjos and chairman Bjørn Kise and a focus on US flights from Oslo and Gatwick, led to assumptions that Norse was simply a new version of Norwegian.

However, Larsen (pictured) is keen to stress: “We are a very different airline and no more affiliated with Norwegian than any other airline. They concentrate on short-haul. We operate point-to-point long-haul.”

He added: “We have feeder agreements with 20 different airlines [including Norwegian], but easyJet is our biggest partner.”

Norse Atlantic launched its first service between Oslo and New York JFK in June 2022 and launched from Gatwick to New York in August the same year. It established a UK subsidiary, Norse Atlantic UK, in May last year.

Larsen is a qualified pilot, but running an airline was new to him. He said: “It has been a steep learning curve. I’m a ship owner and manager and I’ve spent most of my career in shipping.” But he founded Norse “when I had an opportunity to lease some fantastic‑priced Boeing 787s”. It was “an opportunity to acquire aircraft at historic low prices”.

Larsen said: “We hired experienced people in Norway and the UK to kick it off successfully – to establish a network and create a great product.”

The carrier reported a doubling in revenue year on year in the first quarter of 2024 – only its second full year of operation – after carrying 980,000 passengers in 2023.


Charter flights are ‘part of our strategy’

Long-haul charter flights form an important part of Norse Atlantic Airways’ business, with a partnership with P&O Cruises announced in May just one of a series of charter arrangements.

The carrier will operate charters on behalf of P&O Cruises to Barbados and Antigua between November this year and March 2025, with weekly Friday flights from Manchester to Barbados and Saturday flights from Gatwick to Antigua and Manchester to Barbados on alternating weeks.

Norse Atlantic chief executive Bjørn Tore Larsen said: “P&O Cruises is a great partner for us. [But] we operate a lot of charter flights. It is part of our strategy to fly for other operators. We flew to Antarctica last year and will again this year. We just flew to Alaska, and we’ll operate charters to Zanzibar, Mombasa and Darwin.”

He added: “Many tour operators have been stuck with old aircraft technology that is not advanced and as efficient as ours.

“We have a great product for operators: fuel-efficient aircraft and great passenger comfort. We probably have the most sophisticated fleet in the charter market.”

Larsen said: “Charters could be 50% of our business in winter and could even be a little more than that as we grow.”

Share article

View Comments

Jacobs Media is honoured to be the recipient of the 2020 Queen's Award for Enterprise.

The highest official awards for UK businesses since being established by royal warrant in 1965. Read more.