Skift Take

Norwegian is likely paying a lot more to a rent a gently-used Airbus A380 than it did for Wamos Air Boeing 747. But passengers hated the antiquated 747, and Norwegian took some criticism for flying it from New York to London. This is probably a better approach.

Some Norwegian Air passengers flying this month from New York to London are in for a superjumbo upgrade.

The European discounter, which has a shortage of aircraft because of problems with Rolls-Royce engines on its Boeing 787s, temporarily will rent an Airbus A380 from Hi Fly, a charter operator, an airline spokesman confirmed Thursday.

For much of August, Norwegian will fly the A380 on its overnight departure from JFK Airport to London Gatwick. The spokesman Norwegian said the lease “most likely” will last for 20 days, and should start soon, though he declined to give exact dates.

The aircraft is notable for two reasons. It’s the first A380 to have a second life after retirement, having flown for about a decade for Singapore Airlines, which returned it to the lessor in favor of newer (and more efficient) superjumbos. Hi Fly kept Singapore’s configuration, meaning some Norwegian’s flyers could be in for an unexpected treat. Norwegian passengers who booked premium economy recliners instead will be assigned flatbed seats in business class or suites in first class.

Renting the massive airliner won’t be cheap, but the airline likely calculated it was worth it, particularly for public relations value. Recently, because of engine problems, Norwegian has wet-lease antiquated and less uncomfortable aircraft from charter operators such Spain’s Wamos Air. The UK newspaper The Guardian said Norwegian customers have described the aircraft as a relic of the 1980s with ashtrays in armrests.

“Obviously it hurts the brand,” Norwegian CEO Bjorn Kjos told Skift last month in an interview in Oslo. “If you want to fly on a Dreamliner and you end up with an old 747, that’s not what you expected.”

For the New York flight operated by Wamos earlier this summer, Norwegian had given passengers the right to switch to another flight, Kjos said.

“As an airline you have a choice: You can cancel the fights or at least try to fly them,” he said. “Then you have to give the choice to the passenger: Do you want to fly with this old 747 or do you want to fly on a later flight?”

Other airlines have had similar problems because of compressor issues with Rolls-Royce engines, including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic. British Airways rented aircraft from Qatar Airways, an investor in its parent company, while Virgin Atlantic leased planes that had belonged to defunct Air Berlin.

Still, the issue is more challenging for Norwegian, because it prefers to fly aircraft more hours each day than its full-service competition. A legacy carrier might fly a jet 9-12 hours a day, on average, but in the summer when leisure demand spikes, Norwegian pushes its planes more.

Kjos said he doesn’t apologize for scheduling aircraft to fly more often, asking instead why most of his competitors park their priciest assets for half the day.

“These aircraft are built for 18 hours utilization so you should always try to get them up to 18 hours utilization,” Kjos said. “Needless to say, it is has not been possible this year because of all the inspections you have to do on these engines.”

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Tags: a380, airline innovation, norwegian air, rolls royce

Photo credit: Hi Fly kept Singapore Airlines' interior on its first A380, so some customers flying Norwegian Air from New York to London this month will be assigned first class suites, unexpectedly. Norwegian is renting the aircraft because of problems with the engines on its Boeing 787s. Hi Fly

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