A report earlier today by the Financial Times says that Norwegian may need to make pilot redundancies at its London Gatwick airport base. This is due to their Boeing 787 Dreamliner engine issues. To cope with grounded 787s, Norwegian have leased aircraft complete with pilots and crew to replace their grounded planes. This means some Norwegian pilots are not currently flying.
An unlucky airline
We’ve reported on Norwegian’s bad luck several times in recent months. Years ago, Norwegian made reasonable and rational decisions to purchase the 787 Dreamliner and the 737 MAX to expand its fleet. However, this year engine issues and a computer automation scandal have grounded their planes.
These are issues the airline could not have predicted when it initially placed orders. Apart from fleet problems, the London Gatwick drone incident in December 2018 also cut into Norwegians profits.
Instead of cancelling flights that were scheduled for the now-grounded aircraft, Norwegian have leased multiple aircraft. Philip Allport, Norwegian Director of Communications and Public Affairs for the UK writes:
“We continue to be in close dialogue with the engine manufacturer to ensure that a minimum number of hired aircraft are required and that customers face as little disruption as possible.”
As reported in a previous article, the wet-lease aircraft are:
- An Airbus A330-200 from Wamos Air
- An Airbus A330-300 from Evelop Airlines
- A Boeing 777-200 from Privilege Style
- An Airbus A340-300 from HiFly
With wet-leases, the lessors provide fuel, pilots, cabin crew, and service. As a result, pilots for Norwegian’s grounded aircraft are not needed until those aircraft can take off once again.
The leasing of aircraft is a temporary measure until the end of the summer season (Oct 2019). This will not be the case for the winter season.
Redundancies a last resort
In the correspondence to Simple Flying, Norwegian emphasized that redundancies are purely a last resort and they are therefore are not looking for a number. It may be possible that no redundancies will take place as the airline are “discussing other alternatives such as part time and unpaid leave”. The letter to Simple Flying went on to say:
“We are discussing various voluntary options that include unpaid leave and part time with our crew colleagues, we are not considering redundancies for cabin crew. We have had positive discussions with our pilots and the unions regarding the options that are available to them and we are all working together to ensure that redundancies remain a last resort.”
A UK surplus during a global shortage
In other parts – or perhaps in most parts – of the world, there is a pilot shortage. According to a Quartz India report earlier this month, low cost carrier IndiGo, is facing a shortage. Earlier this year, IndiGo was cancelling over 30 flights a day due to a lack of pilots. The airline has taken steps to increase retention by instating the first salary hike in three years.
The United States also has an acute pilot shortage. The Pacific Standard pins part of the problem on the fact that airlines in the United States require a four-year bachelor’s degree in order to be a pilot. Apparently, it is the only country in the world with major airlines having this requirement.
This article was updated on May 10th after receiving clarification from Norwegian regarding their situation. The possibility of pilot redundancies is not connected to the grounding of Norwegian’s 737MAX fleet.