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End of an Era- Bjorn Kjos retires from Norwegian

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Having co-founded the airline in 1993 and having been the airlines CEO for the last 17 years, the 72 year old CEO of Norwegian Air Shuttle (and its subsidiaries) has decided to step down from the airline, having transformed the tiny and struggling Norwegian regional airline into a major Pan-European based budget airline.

 

For the first decade of its existence, Norwegian Air Shuttle offered flights across Norway operated by Fokker F50 turbo prop aircraft, the airline’s first service was from Bergen to Alesund.

 

In 2002, Scandinavian Airlines began the process of buying out and merging major Norwegian airline Braathens into its Norwegian operations. This led to a major opening in the Norwegian airline market and Norwegian brought in a fleet of Boeing 737-300 aircraft to launch larger operations to fill in the vacancies left in the market and kicked started its transformation into a low-cost airline. This coincided with Mr Kjos becoming the airline’s CEO in 2002.

The airline purchased and merged with FlyNordic, a Swedish based airline in 2007 giving it a presence in Finland and Sweden. This introduced a brief McDonnell-Douglas MD-80 fleet to the airline, which were quickly phased out by 2010. The Fokker F50 fleet left the airline in 2004, making it an all jet operation.

The current short haul fleet of Norwegian- the Boeing 737-800, was ordered in 2007 and began to arrive in huge numbers by 2008. This also included the 6000th Boeing 737 built, LN-NOL, a plane that I had the pleasure of flying from London to Copenhagen in August 2016.

On a humorous side note- Hans Petter Aanby appeared on the Norwegian version of “Undercover Boss” reality tv show in 2011. Mr Kjos also notably featured in the episode, albeit not undercover himself.

In 2012 the airline opened its largest base outside of the Nordic region, London Gatwick- where it had previously been serving only Scandinavian routes, it now offered flights across Europe including to Spain, Croatia and at one time Germany. The airline is now the largest non-UK airline operating from London Gatwick, and has the third largest presence behind easyJet and British Airways.

In 2013, the airline took delivery of their first Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner, making it the first Low-Cost Airline to launch long-haul flights since the demise of Laker Skytrain in 1982. Initially the airline served the US and Thailand from Oslo (Norway), Stockholm (Sweden) and Copenhagen (Denmark) before adding London Gatwick from the UK in June 2014. The airline now also offers long haul operations with various models of Boeing 787 from Paris Charles DeGaulle (France), Rome Fumincio (Italy) and Barcelona El-Pratt (Spain). The airline had a huge financial and logistical headache during 2013 when the Boeing 787 was grounded owing to battery problems, but the airline overcame this obstacle. The airline also faced protest from the US where groups were concerned about the airline using Bangkok based cabin crew to drive its costs down unfairly, but the US authorities sided with Norwegian.

In 2015, the final Boeing 737-300 were retired, one example LN-KKW, is to be preserved in Bodo, Norway as part of the town’s Norwegian Aviation Museum. The airline is currently stored as they prepare to bring the large aircraft to the museum for its retirement as an external display.

In 2017, the airline introduced the Boeing 737-8MAX to its fleet. The airline used the plane to compliment older Boeing 737-800 and to launch long haul routes on low demand routes. Dublin services to Hamilton (Canada), Providence (USA) and Newburgh (USA) were some of the services the “MAX” was introduced on.

However following the 2019 Groundings, many plans Norwegian wanted to introduce are on hold as a result. The airline’s out going CEO has noted they want to seek compensation from Boeing, given its the second time in a decade they’ve come into this problem. Some Norwegian MAX aircraft can be found stored at Dublin.

With the future of Norwegian looking very grey right now, and Mr Kjos retiring, it has been speculated that he is leaving due to strains on the airline, or rumours of a collapse on the way…

 

However it should be noted that Mr Kjos is 72 years old and considerably older than some of his other airline peers, including Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary (who is 58 years old, who took on the position in 1994 aged 33) and easyJet founder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou (who is 52 years old and ran the airline in his mid-20s), so this could just be him wanting to spend more time with his family in his “twilight years”. He wouldn’t be the first Airline CEO to retire late in life as there has been other examples including the late Sir Maurice Flanagan (Emirates CEO from 1985 until his retirement in April 2013 aged 84 he passed away in late 2015), Robert F Six (Continental CEO from 1936-1981, who was 74 years old when he retired before passing away in 1986), Herb D. Kelleher (Southwest co-founder & CEO until 2008, aged 76, he passed away earlier this year) and Sir Freddie Laker (who retired from his last airline venture in 2005 aged 82 less than a year before he passed).

As this chapter of Norwegian closes, another opens. Whilst a new full time CEO hasn’t been chosen- Mr Kjos announced on his Twitter that his acting replacement for now will be Mr Geir Karlsen. Mr kjos may be stepping aside, but will still continue to be an adviser for Norwegian for the foreseeable future, which is a natural thing to do given the work and dedication he has given to growing the airline.

A quick message on behalf of all of us here at Travel Radar- Thank you Mr Kjos for your hard work at Norwegian, and wishing you a happy retirement.

 

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