Low-cost long-haul specialist Norwegian has taken the decision to return six slots (three slot pairs) to the operators of Heathrow Airport. The airline was granted these as part of a slot lottery last year, but is now not willing to use them.
Norwegian’s Heathrow ambitions
Back in December, we reported on the surprising news that Norwegian had been granted some slots at London’s highly congested Heathrow Airport. The slot lottery (slottery?) saw applications from dozens of airlines wanting to operate more frequencies to the London airport. Only a handful were granted, with two going to Virgin Atlantic, two to Tunisair, two to Shenzhen Airlines and four to China Southern.
The fifth recipient of new Heathrow slots, Norwegian, was a bit of a surprise. Norwegian has never flown from Heathrow but was making a bid for a daily service, putting in an application for 14 slots. What it was granted were six slots, making three slot pairs.
While a three times weekly service is always going to be difficult to make work, it could have been a super addition for the low-cost long-haul specialist. Heathrow is a preferred option for many travelers, and could see more potential for connections from other airlines.
However, it wasn’t to be, as One Mile At A Time reports today that Norwegian has given its six slots back to Heathrow. OMAAT reported the following statement from Norwegian’s Head of Strategic Capacity & Slot Control:
“We would like to thank both ACL and Heathrow for granting Norwegian three slots for the Summer 2020 schedule. After careful consideration, which took into account the current fleet pressures placed on the airline by well documented issues with a specific Rolls Royce Trent engine type and the continued grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, we have decided to return the slots as they do not fit into our network plan at this current time. As the airline moves from a strategy of growth to profitability, we look forward to having future discussions with ACL and Heathrow.”
As it was a lottery for slots, it’s fairly common for airlines to stick a request in to see what they can get. For Norwegian, keeping its focus on Gatwick makes much more sense, as it works to drag itself out of a financial hole. Norwegian is not allowed to sell the slots until it has operated them for two seasons, so at this stage, it was better to simply cut their losses and give them back.
Who will get the slots now?
Six slots aren’t a groundbreaking addition for any airline, but at such a sought after airport, they will be well in demand. Slots are often offered on the basis not only of the reputation of the airline, but also in regard to the type of airline they are.
Slot coordinators are often keen to allocate slots to unusual airlines, airlines that don’t fly from the airport already as well as those with different operating models. As a low-cost long-haul carrier, Norwegian ticked lots of boxes for the slot coordinators, being the polar opposite of the full service IAG airlines that dominate Heathrow.
Looking at the applications, there are a few contenders for the now up for grabs again slots. Let’s presume the slot coordinator is looking for an airline that doesn’t fly from Heathrow currently, and that operates on a low-cost model. Two names jump out at me right away: WestJet and JetBlue.
JetBlue has made no secret about its desire to fly to London. WestJet too would undoubtedly like to expand services at the UK’s capital from its current home at Gatwick. Both are low-cost and neither currently has any slots at the airport. JetBlue previously requested 70 slots and WestJet 14.
Other contenders include IndiGo, who requested 42 slots, SpiceJet who requested 14 and Vistara who also requested 14. None of these Indian airlines were granted any capacity at the airport, two of the three operate on a low-cost model and all are brand new to the airport.
The question is whether any of these airlines will want just six slots a week. A thrice-weekly rotation might not be enough to warrant all the setup costs for the route, particularly when some were really looking for a daily operation.
But, there is one wildcard that could be a perfect match for the slots. Israeli LCC Arkia only requested six slots in the first place, so Heathrow’s slot coordinator could make its dreams come true with a granting of its fill request. Or, they could be really boring and give more slots to those already granted some.
For now, we’ll just have to wait and see.