Airlines around the globe are fighting for survival at the moment. Even the (previously) most profitable airlines are struggling, while those that were on the brink of liquidation going into this are in an even worse position (except Alitalia, because that airline has more lives than a cat).
Norwegian is hanging on by a thread
Norwegian has been on the verge of liquidation for a long time. Until last year the airline was focused exclusively on growth over profitability, as it seemed like the airline was trying to become an attractive acquisition target.
While British Airways was interested a couple of years back, Norwegian overplayed their hand, and it has been all downhill for the airline since then.
Norwegian has made a lot of difficult decisions and is generally headed in the right direction, though in light of the current situation it may be too little too late.
The airline may be getting some aid from Norway, though it remains to be seen if Norwegian meets the criteria for receiving the full aid.
Norwegian subsidiaries file for bankruptcy
Norwegian Air has some creative (questionable?) employment contracts to minimize costs, and as part of that, we’re seeing several Norwegian subsidiaries file for bankruptcy.
The following four Norwegian crew subsidiaries have today made the decision to file for bankruptcy:
- Norwegian Pilot Services Sweden AB
- Norwegian Pilot Services Denmark ApS
- Norwegian Cabin Services Denmark ApS
- Norwegian Air Resources Denmark LH ApS
This represents a majority of the Norwegian staff employed in Denmark and Sweden, due to the lack of financial support these countries have provided.
We’re not seeing the same in Norway, which is because there are efficient furlough opportunities, meaning the government pays all salary related costs throughout the duration of the furlough period.
Norwegian has also notified OSM Aviation that they are cancelling the crew provision agreements with several jointly owned OSM Aviation subsidiaries, including for crews based in Finland, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
The above will impact 1,571 pilots and 3,134 cabin crew. Meanwhile about 700 pilots and 1,300 cabin crew based in France, Italy, and Norway, aren’t impacted by this.
As Jacob Schram, Norwegian’s CEO, explains:
“The impact the Coronavirus has had on the airline industry is unprecedented. We have done everything we can to avoid making this last-resort decision and we have asked for access to government support in both Sweden and Denmark.
Our pilots and cabin crew are the core of our business and they have done a fantastic job for many years. It is heart-breaking that our Swedish and Danish pilot and cabin crew subsidiaries now are forced to file for bankruptcy, and I’m truly sorry for the consequences this will have for our colleagues. We are working around the clock to get through this crisis and to return as a stronger Norwegian with the goal of bringing as many colleagues back in the air as possible.”
What does this mean in practice?
A lot of airlines have struggled with how to handle paying staff in light of the current situation. For example, in the US a condition of government aid has been continuing to pay employees, even if they’re not working.
In the case of Norwegian, their staff are primarily employed through subsidiaries, and one of the advantages of that is that they can pretty easily lay off their staff without bigger implications for the company.
Unfortunately this will leave a lot of people without jobs. I would imagine that as Norwegian sees it:
- They’ve managed to shed some costs while still maintaining their assets
- They’re still hoping for aid from Norway, and as of now they haven’t laid off any employees in Norway
- It probably won’t be too hard for Norwegian to rehire the employees who were laid off through this arrangement in the event that the airline does make it through this
This is awful news, as about two thirds of Norwegian’s pilots and cabin crew are being laid off. While the airline as such isn’t filing for bankruptcy, four subsidiaries are, giving the airline an “easy” way to shed a majority of their workforce.
This is sad, though in reality Norwegian’s survival is doubtful at this point no matter how you slice it, so chances are this was going to happen one way or another…