Norwegian (DY, Oslo Gardermoen) will suspend more than 4,000 flights until the end of May, grounding 40% of its long-haul fleet and cancelling up to 25% of its short-haul flights, due to the coronavirus outbreak, the company said in a statement on March 12. It will also temporarily lay off up to half of its employees.

Travel restrictions and plummeting demand have hit airlines worldwide, but the sweeping curtailments on travel from Europe to the United States for the next 30 days are an especially severe blow for low-cost long-haul specialist Norwegian.

It will cancel the majority of its long-haul flights to the US from Amsterdam Schiphol, Barcelona El Prat, Madrid Barajas, Oslo Gardermoen, Paris CDG, Stockholm Arlanda from March 13 to March 29. All flights between Rome Fiumicino and the US have been cancelled until May 31.

From March 29 until the end of April, all of Norwegian's flights to the United States from Amsterdam, Athens Int'l, Barcelona, Madrid, Oslo, and Paris will be cancelled.

From London Gatwick, however, flights “will continue to operate as normal”, the statement said, adding: “Our goal is to reroute as many of our customers as possible through London during this difficult period.” Britain is currently not affected by the US restrictions.

Norwegian will also cancel “a large share” of its domestic flights in Norway and flights within Scandinavia such as Oslo-Copenhagen Kastrup and Oslo-Stockholm. Domestic and intra-Scandinavian flights will be combined. All flights to Italy have also been cancelled.

Blaming “the extraordinary market situation as a result of the coronavirus,” Norwegian said it had to “look at all possible measures to reduce costs”.

“This unfortunately also includes temporary layoffs of up to 50% of our employees, and the number may increase. All departments will be affected by the temporary layoffs,” it said.

“We have initiated, in consultation with the unions, a discussion and mapping process and will then return with leave notices to the affected departments, stations and employees,” the statement concluded.

The airline employs around 11,000 people, according to its website.

“We urge international governments to act now to ensure that the aviation industry can protect jobs and continue to be a vital part of the global economic recovery,” the airline's chief executive, Jacob Schram, said on March 12, according to Reuters.

Norway’s prime minister, Erna Solberg, assured earlier this week that her government would provide financial assistance to hard-hit industries, including airlines, but gave no further details.

In related news, SAS Scandinavian Airlines (SK, Copenhagen Kastrup) has seen “a double-digit percentage fall in bookings and a significant amount of cancellations” due to the outbreak, its CEO Rickard Gustafson told the news agency TT on March 12. The carrier has good liquidity, he added, but that could change if the situation deteriorates.

SAS had already signalled it would cancel 2,000 departures during March, but the US restrictions this week are “another complexity for us to handle” that will mean “there will be even more restrictions and cancellations going forward”.

“Nobody knows how long this will last, but if we see a sharply reduced demand even as we enter the summer, which is our peak season, then all airlines in Europe will have problems with their liquidity, as will SAS,” he said.

Editorial Comment: London departure airport for Norwegian corrected to be Gatwick. - 14.03.2020 - 14:12 UTC