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High Flyer Interview: Bjørn Kjos, CEO, Norwegian

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High Flyer Interview: Bjørn Kjos, CEO, Norwegian

High Flyer Interview: Bjørn Kjos, CEO, Norwegian
August 17
07:35 2015

BALTIMORE — Bjørn Kjos has been the Chief Executive Officer of Norwegian since October 2002. He is one of the founding partners of Norwegian Air Shuttle and was chairman of the board between 1993 and 1996. He was a lawyer for 20 years and was a fighter pilot in the Norwegian Air Force.

He spoke with Airways at a press event at Baltimore-Washington International Airport about his carrier’s fleet, future cities and what the airline will look like in five years.

Bjorn Kjos. (Credits: Norwegian Air Shuttle)

Bjorn Kjos. (Credits: Norwegian Air Shuttle)

Airways: How and Why Did You Get Into The Airline Business?


Bjørn Kjos: I started my career as a pilot. I learned to fly in the United States, training with the U.S. Air Force. I went back to Norway and flew for the Norwegian Air Force. After my time in the Air Force, I went to university and worked as a lawyer. During that time, there were a couple of my friends who worked for an airline and that airline got into financial trouble. I tried to help, but the airline went bust. After that, I told them to start their own airline and I provided the share capital.

I had no intention of getting into the airline business. We flew 50-seat Fokker 50s for SAS 10 years and we were profitable. In 2002, SAS bought the airline Braathens and the first thing they did was terminate our agreement.  We had to close shop.

This was only eight months after 9/11, so there were no other airline jobs. We had 131 employees.  The only way to take care of these employees was to start a competing airline, so we started later in 2002 with four used Boeing 737s for domestic operations. From day one, SAS tried to kill us. We wanted to be small, but we were forced to grow and compete. We now fly 100 aircraft on 435 routes, thanks to SAS.

A Norwegian check-in desk. (Credits: Norwegian Air Shuttle)

A Norwegian check-in desk. (Credits: Norwegian Air Shuttle)

Why did you choose the Dreamliner for your long-haul fleet, and what has customer reaction been to the fleet?


Customers love the aircraft because it’s the best passenger experience you can get.  We studied different aircraft to see which ones we could operate it at a low cost and high utilization on long-haul routes. We also looked at fuel burn.

We wanted to look into the horizon on how people would travel in the future.  Airbus and Boeing modeled this and we saw that it was most likely that the largest expansion would be continent to continent, provided there weren’t many political obstacles.  Everyone has cousins in the UK and there are people who migrated to the U.S. from China, so we see these large movements across the continents.

There were two aircraft that fit our needs — the Dreamliner and the Airbus A350. The A350 was way too late to market and the Dreamliner was hard to get access to. But then the Icelandic guys had to get rid of their aircraft because of the crisis in Iceland and we were able to get ahold of those aircraft.

So we decided to set up our long-haul operations two years ago with the Dreamliners. We had a lot of problems with the Dreamliners in the beginning, but it’s now doing well for us. We have eight Dreamliners in operation, and will get another nine by end of 2017. We are also in the process of negotiating for more Dreamliners.

You have been in a battle with U.S. carriers and ALPA over allowing your Irish-registered subsidiary, Norwegian Air International (NAI), to operate transatlantic routes under the EU-US open skies agreement. Why do you think there is so much resistance to your request?


It’s a good question. I didn’t even know the labor rules in Ireland. This is all about competition. The crazy thing is we have access to fly as much as we want to the U.S. The problem is we want to fly to other parts of the world, but can’t because we don’t have [U.S. Department of Transportation] approval.  We had to put negotiations with Boeing on hold. This is hurting Boeing and U.S. jobs.

Why did you choose Baltimore, Boston and New York to launch this new Caribbean service?

A Premium Economy cabin. (Credits: Norwegian Air Shuttle)

A Premium Economy cabin. (Credits: Norwegian Air Shuttle)

Why did you choose Baltimore, Boston and New York to launch this new Caribbean service?


We have a large operation at JFK Airport, so that was no secret. It’s also no secret that we’re bringing long-haul service to Boston and Baltimore too. These are three regions with highly educated people with high incomes who like to travel. There aren’t many direct routes to Martinique and Guadaloupe, and people on both islands also like to travel.

What do you think the airline will look like in five years?


I can easily see five years. But if you asked me about 10 years, that would be a problem. If you had asked me what we’d look like back in 2002 what we’d look like in 2012, I would have said we’d have eight aircraft and a few more on order.

Our main strategy has shifted in the last three to four years. We’re now more focused on long-haul flights. It’s easier to compete in long haul than short haul.

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About Author

Benét J. Wilson

Benét J. Wilson

Mother, Aviation Queen, Veteran Aviation Journalist, AVgeek since age six, number one fan of the Boeing 747 and Student pilot (can't stick my landings). I would actually pay rent to live in an airport. bwilson@airwaysmag.com @AVQueenBenet

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