Passengers traveling on low-cost transatlantic airline Norwegian Long Haul on select flights between New York and London will be getting an upgrade to the Boeing 787 Dreamliners currently operating the route. Due to continued problems with the Trent 1000 engines that power the Dreamliners, Norwegian has opted to wet-lease an Airbus A380 from Hi Fly, a European wet-lease specialist.
The Airbus A380 used is the first secondhand A380 in the world. Painted in a blue and white livery with “save the coral reefs” on its sides and tail, the eco-friendly aircraft will be the latest wet-leased aircraft to serve Norwegian passengers. The double-decker aircraft was recently delivered to Hi Fly, a Portuguese-based all-Airbus wet-lease specialist, after its tenure with Singapore Airlines.
The 471-seat aircraft in a 3-class configuration will give Norwegian plenty of capacity on its busiest route with the ability to seat around 127 more passengers than the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner currently used on the route. Norwegian is the second airline to utilize the aircraft from Hi Fly, following its brief appearance on Thomas Cook Scandinavia’s Copenhagen to Larnaca route on Wednesday.
Issues with the aircraft have plagued Norwegian since its inception. First, the battery issues with the Dreamliners caused the airline to wet-lease aircraft from providers such as EuroAtlantic and now the Trent 1000 engines, manufactured by Rolls Royce, have been forcing Norwegian to wet-lease more aircraft.
Earlier this summer, Wamos Air was the carrier of choice to serve the New York-London route, the airline’s flagship, with its secondhand Boeing 747-400s. The Newark to Rome route has also been operating via a wet-leased Boeing 777-200 operated by Spanish-based Privilege Style for quite some time now. Critics of the airline claim that the wet-leases are a symptom of the airline’s rapid U.S. expansion without a reliable fleet. However, the airline has managed to turn a near $36 million profit in Q2 2018 despite the leases.
For low-cost airlines, onboard experience is paramount, as it will determine return business and help destigmatize that segment of the industry. However, with wet-leased aircraft, Norwegian has little control over that aspect, as seen in the reviews of the Wamos aircraft and other wet-leased aircraft used in the past.
As the airline’s business model is centered around the modern, fuel-efficient aircraft to provide low-cost service, the use of fuel-inefficient and outdated wet-leased aircraft is undoubtedly taking its toll. However, the use of the A380 may not be as detrimental as the aircraft used in the past, as the quad engine aircraft is very modern, having been used previously by Singapore Airlines, and features its predecessors’ premium cabin, complete with Singapore’s famous first class suites.
Norwegian confirmed that despite the substantial upgrade to its premium cabin, premium passengers will not have to pay more. However, selecting a first class suite won’t be possible, as passengers will be randomly selected to sit in the ultra-luxurious suites. In addition, while the seat itself may be luxurious, passengers shouldn’t expect more than Norwegian’s standard premium product, as AirlineGeeks experienced in January on the same flight that is now being operated by the A380.
The airline said in a statement: “Norwegian has contracted a Hi-Fly A380 aircraft to operate our evening London-New York and overnight New York-London services for several weeks in August as continued issues with a specific Rolls Royce engine type affecting our 787 Dreamliner fleet has reduced our aircraft availability. This is in line with other airlines that have been affected by similar problems. We are pleased to be able to offer this solution to our customers to ensure that their journeys remain unaffected, and the A380 superjumbo offers a high-quality experience between London and New York courtesy of Norwegian.”
It’s unknown whether or not the low-cost airline specifically chose the A380 to shake off its reputation for using older wet-leased aircraft. However, an airline spokesperson told AirlineGeeks that it doesn’t consider the aircraft to be an upgrade to previous wet-leases, it is just what is available to the airline at present and suitable for the route.
Additional concerns about the aircraft on the route have been brought up by curious onlookers, paramount being the use of the A380 at JFK’s tight Terminal 1. The terminal, owned by a consortium of airlines including Air France, Japan Airlines, Lufthansa and Korean Air, is already close to capacity with numerous airlines already operating Airbus A380s.
With the constraints on the terminal and the needs of the A380, it’s unsure whether or not the aircraft will help the airline regain its reputation or if it will contribute to more delays. The airline couldn’t say what assurances, if any, the terminal has given them to mitigate delays with the aircraft, but with the tight alleyways and the congestion commonly seen at the all-international terminal dominated by widebodies ranging from A330s to A380s and nearly everything in between, it’s a legitimate concern.
Case in point, the first flight with the aircraft is scheduled for Friday night and has already been delayed for 4 hours at the time of writing. The airline cited airport regulations at JFK as the reason for the delay and hasn’t speculated further. With Air France’s evening A380 service to Paris and Korean Air’s A380 service to Seoul operating in close time proximity to Norwegian’s planned service, it’s likely that 3 A380s are too much for the terminal to handle at once.
The aircraft will most likely be flying on the route until August 23, reports indicate, and will be the first scheduled A380 service between New York and London, one of the most iconic airline routes in the world.