Skift Take

Another European airline bites the dust. In this case, we're not really that surprised.

Primera Air—the fast-growing low-cost, long-haul airline—is no more.

The carrier had bases in Latvia and Denmark and will officially cease operations on Tuesday (October 2), according to a statement on its website.

“On behalf of Primera Air team, we would like to thank you for your loyalty. On this sad day we are saying goodbye to all of you,” the company said.

Primera Air was part of the larger Primera Travel Group, which includes travel agencies and tour operators in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Iceland and Estonia. For most of its roughly decade-long history, the airline had been flying short-haul routes within Europe, with both charter and scheduled service. And with that limited business model, it had some success.

But recently, it had much grander plans — and those ultimately led to the carrier’s demise.   It began building a low-cost transatlantic operation using the newest and most efficient narrow-body aircraft from Boeing and Airbus. The airline wanted to rival the established player in the space — Norwegian Air — while challenging legacy carriers on some of their most lucrative routes.

As of April, it flew to roughly 70 destinations across the Mediterranean, Middle East, Asia, Caribbean and North America. Its routes included Washington, D.C. to London, and Newark to London, and it was planning many expansion from Frankfurt, Brussels and Madrid.

To fuel its recent growth, it placed an order for eight Airbus 321 NEO aircraft as well as ten 737 Max 9s.

Tough Competition

But it was not meant to be.

The airline probably grew too quickly, and had challenges delivering a reliable consistent product to customers. Many complained on social media and elsewhere, especially in the spring when Primera was forced to wet-lease a Boeing 757 from National Airlines because of a delivery delay with an Airbus A321.

Competition has also been an issue.

European and American customers continue to have several choices for low-cost transatlantic travel. The most obvious is Norwegian, which flies Boeing 737s and Boeing 787s between the continents. But legacy carriers have also become much feistier competitors in the past two years.

The larger carriers were in much stronger position to match or beat Primera’s $149 or $199 one-way fares than they would have been as recently as 2016.

International Airlines Group, or IAG, owner of British Airways and Iberia, now has its own low-cost airline called Level, which offers a similar product to Norwegian. Lufthansa Group, meanwhile, has made made Eurowings a bonafide transatlantic competitor.

Meanwhile, established airlines are also offering no-frills fares to keep customers from defecting to low-cost competition.  Often, customers who buy these fares do not receive perks like a free checked bag. But the entry-level fares make airlines like American, United and Delta much more competitive with discount competition.

Further Consolidation

Primera Air becomes the latest European airline to exit the market following the likes of Air Berlin and Monarch.

Many insiders expect other European airlines might disappear in the near future, as many carriers struggle to keep pace with higher fuel prices and increased competition. Some may be absorbed by one of three largest airline groups in Europe — IAG, Lufthansa Group or Air France-KLM — while others may simply go away.

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Tags: low-cost carriers, low-cost long-haul

Photo credit: A Primera Air Boeing 737. The airline is stopping flying. Alan Wilson / Flickr

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