Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA’s Argentine unit is planning direct flights from Buenos Aires to Los Angeles, New York and Istanbul as part of a $4.3 billion expansion in the South American country over the next 10 years.
The discount airline is also eyeing service to such cities as Dallas, Honolulu and Johannesburg, said Ole Christian Melhus, head of Norwegian’s operations in Argentina. U.S. flights are scheduled to begin by the end of 2018, after the carrier begins serving domestic and South American destinations, Melhus said.
Norwegian is vying for a chunk of the incipient market for low-cost flights in Argentina, where state-run Aerolineas Argentinas has held a virtual monopoly on air travel for the past 15 years. Norwegian has been accumulating planes and expanding destinations at a torrid pace worldwide, from smaller U.S. cities to Southeast Asia, prompting Chief Executive Officer Bjorn Kos to reject assertions that the company is stretched too thin.
The plan to establish Argentina as a stronghold in the Americas will require the leasing of between 50 and 70 planes and the hiring of 3,200 employees, Melhus said. Norwegian is looking at Boeing Co. 737-800 jetliners for domestic flights, 737 Max planes for regional service and the 787 Dreamliner or the Airbus SE 321neo for long haul, the company said.
Argentina’s aviation regulator last month recommended the approval of 153 of Norwegian’s proposed 156 international and domestic routes. The discount airline’s debut flight to Buenos Aires from London will be on February 14 with return tickets as cheap as $700.
In the U.S., some unions and airlines have objected to Norwegian’s effort to broaden operations in the country using an Irish subsidiary, arguing that the arrangement would give them an unfair competitive advantage by circumventing labor-protection laws.