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Norwegian transatlantic 737 flights to begin in June

Norwegian will begin its long-planned transatlantic Boeing 737 Max service in June, when it connects Hartford, Newburgh Stewart and Providence to five cities across Ireland and the UK.

The low-cost carrier's Irish subsidiary Norwegian Air International (NAI) will in June and July start flights from the three US cities to Belfast, Cork, Dublin, Edinburgh and Shannon. It will operate 189-seat 737 Max 8 aircraft on the routes.

NAI will connect Hartford to Edinburgh from 17 June; Newburgh to Belfast and Dublin from 1 July, Edinburgh from 15 June, and Shannon from 2 July; and Providence to Belfast and Dublin from 2 July, Cork from 1 July, Edinburgh from 16 June, and Shannon from 3 July.

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Norwegian's new routes eschew traditional transatlantic gateways, like Boston Logan and New York JFK, in favour of secondary fields that for years have pined for direct access to Europe.

"Instead of bringing people to the bigger airports, we wanted to bring them to these smaller airports, and our visibility there is a lot higher," Lars Sande, senior vice-president of sales at Norwegian, tells FlightGlobal.

Newburgh and Providence serve the New York City and Boston areas, respectively. Newburgh is 97km from Manhattan, and Providence 95km from Boston's city centre.

Norwegian is working with a bus company to offer services between Stewart and Manhattan, says Lande. Providence airport is on a rail line to Boston, making access easier, though the airline expects more passengers to drive in that market.

The airline is targeting leisure travellers who want "affordable fares" with the new flights, Sande says.

"We know we have a big market that's leaking and it's a market that we really believe can be stimulated," says Daragh Hanratty, head of aviation marketing at Cork airport in southwest Ireland. "They are certainly the people who can do it, especially with the way they do it with low fares."

Asked about the economics of point-to-point services between Europe and the USA, Sande says that the lower operating costs of the 737 Max, as well as the fewer seats being offered, make them viable. Norwegian targets an 85% load factor on the routes, about 10 percentage points below that of its existing transatlantic services.

The new routes end a multi-year saga for Norwegian in the USA. The airline first sought US authority for NAI in 2013, but only received the required foreign air carrier permit in December 2016.

The Irish subsidiary's status has been in question since the inauguration of US president Donald Trump in January, which has prompted a renewed push by US labour unions against the foreign air carrier permit. However, recent statements by White House press secretary Sean Spicer suggest that Trump may leave the permit in place.

NAI will base 737 Max 8s at both Newburgh and Providence, as well as open new flight-attendant and pilot bases at those airports, to support the new flights. Edinburgh-based crews will also work the flights.

The airline will be the first offering transatlantic flights from Newburgh, FlightGlobal schedules show. Aer Lingus flies to Hartford, while Azores Airlines and Cabo Verde Airlines both serve Providence.

Additional reporting by Oliver Clark

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