COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Low-cost carrier Norwegian Air Shuttle said Thursday it will focus on European destinations and close its long-haul operations as it struggles with the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic and debt restructuring.
The decision means Denver will lose one of its flights to London, its direct connection to Paris and plans for a flight to Rome, Italy.
“Although we are disappointed to learn of Norwegian’s decision to permanently suspended all long-haul service, we understand this is a direct result of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on global travel,” Denver International Airport spokeswoman Emily Williams said in a written statement. “Since launching flights to Denver in September 2017, Norwegian not only provided a new option for transatlantic travel and stimulated demand, but also connected us with destinations that had never before been served nonstop from Denver, and we value Norwegian’s investment and partnership.”
Williams said the airport is hopeful the flights Norwegian is dropping will be replaced by other airlines.
“We are confident the fundamentals of the Denver market will support flights to destinations such as Paris and Rome at a time in the future when international travel is no longer restricted,” she said.
Denver still has active flights to Europe through United Airlines and Lufthansa.
Norwegian said it will “focus on its core Nordics business, operating a European short haul network with narrow body aircraft. Under these circumstances a long-haul operation is not viable for Norwegian and these operations will therefore not continue.”
The plan affects its flights to the United States and means it will cut its fleet from 140 aircraft to about 50.
Norwegian also wants to reduce its total debt to around 20 billion kroner ($2.36 billion), and plans to raise 4-5 billion kroner ($473 million-590 million) in new capital, including through a rights issue and a private placement of shares. The plan must be approved by an Irish bankruptcy court.
Like other airlines, its fleet is now mostly grounded as the pandemic has caused a near-total halt to global travel.
In November, Norwegian said it was seeking restructuring and bankruptcy protection in Ireland, where its fleet is held, saying it was in the interest of its stakeholders.
Earlier that month, the Oslo-based company said it was facing a “very uncertain” future after the Norwegian government turned down its request for additional financial support. The government said that the airline had been struggling financially even before the pandemic and that aid should be targeted first at healthy businesses.
After that, Norwegian announced it had to lay off another 1,600 staff and ground 15 of the 21 planes it had been flying with.
In May, the carrier got 3 billion kroner ($354 million) in loan guarantees from the government as part of its restructuring plan. But the second call for aid was turned down on Nov. 9.
Norwegian was planning to launch a Denver-Rome flight in March 2020, the same time the pandemic hit. The flight never materialized as a result.
Because of problems with the Rolls Royce engines on Norwegian’s Boeing 787 Dreamliners, the airline’s flights from Denver to Europe weren’t always on the sleek plane as advertised. Norwegian has been at times using an older, Wamos Air Airbus A330-200 to shuttle passengers on its Denver-London route. Wamos is a Spanish air charter company that’s owned in part by Royal Caribbean Cruises.
Colorado Sun staff writer Jesse Paul contributed to this report.