Norwegian Air chief executive Bjørn Kjos steps down2 min read

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CEO of Norwegian low-cost airline Air Shuttle, Bjoern Kjos

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The chief executive and co-founder of Norwegian Air, Bjørn Kjos, has stepped down after 17 years in charge at the airline.

Under the leadership of Mr Kjos, aged 72, Norwegian Air developed from a small domestic airline into Europe’s third biggest low-cost carrier.

It also broke into the transatlantic market with low fares.

However, the firm has struggled to make profits and has also been hit by the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max plane.

Norwegian has 18 of the aircraft and on Thursday said that it did not expect them to return to service until October, later than its previous estimate of August.

The airline said the grounding could cost as much as 700m Norwegian kroner (£65m; $82m) this year, and could also undo its plan to return to profitability.

The 737 Max fleet of jets was grounded after two crashes, the first a Lion Air flight which crashed into the sea off Jakarta last year, and the second an Ethiopian Airlines’ flight which crashed shortly after take off from Addis Ababa in March. In total 346 people were killed.

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Norwegian Air has 18 Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft

Norwegian’s low fares have allowed it to grow rapidly. Last year it launched 35 new routes, carried more than 37 million passengers and added 2,000 staff.

Its big innovation has been to operate low-cost long-haul flights between the UK and the US, which it started in 2014. It now flies to 12 US destinations from London’s Gatwick airport.

It has become the biggest international carrier to serve the New York City area, carrying more passengers there than British Airways, Air Canada or Lufthansa, according to figures from the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey.

However, that growth has come at the expense of profits.

The airline lost 1.45bn kroner last year, which it blamed on fuel costs, tough competition and issues with engines on its Dreamliner aircraft.

Strategy shift

In March, to shore up its finances, Norwegian raised 1.3bn kroner through a share sale and also sold some aircraft.

Mr Kjos, a former fighter pilot, has pledged to slow the airline’s growth and focus on profitability this year.

He said that strategy was reflected in the company’s second-quarter results, released earlier on Thursday, which show a net profit of 82.8m kroner.

“Norwegian’s Q2 results show that we are delivering on our strategy of moving from growth to profitability,” he said.

“Despite operational issues outside of our control, like the grounding of our 737 Max fleet, we are delivering the highest second quarter operating revenue in the history of Norwegian.”

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