Norwegian Air has announced a deal to buy Norwegian regional carrier Widerøe from parent company WF Holding for 1,125 million Norwegian krona (£82 million).
The Norwegian carriers have operated as partners since Norwegian Air resumed flying following substantial restructuring while in bankruptcy protection in 2020-21.
Widerøe operates a fleet of almost 50 regional aircraft with a staff of 3,500, including ground handling and technical services, and operates 85 routes in Norway.
Norwegian Air now operates a purely short-haul fleet, flying regionally within Scandinavia and to London, to Mediterranean destinations and to the Canary Islands.
Announcing the acquisition, the companies said the airlines would remain separate, with Widerøe retaining its own brand, operations and headquarters.
Norwegian Air chief executive Geir Karlsen suggested: “This is a milestone in Norwegian aviation history. We will create a streamlined and more comprehensive offer for customers.”
He noted the airlines “have a very limited overlap on routes” and said: “The agreement will facilitate more efficient operations that lay the foundation for a strong Norwegian aviation industry with local employment and sound working conditions.”
Widerøe chief executive Stein Nilsen said: “Widerøe has close to a 90-year history and we are the guarantor of a well-functioning route network in regional Norway. [But] we are smaller in an international context.”
He noted: “The tax level for air travel in Norway is particularly high and, in combination with fierce international competition, this makes it difficult for a smaller regional airline to persevere without a strong partner.
“We are therefore very happy to join forces with Norwegian and excited to get an owner that aspires to develop both companies.”
Norwegian Air began as regional carrier in 1993 but expanded rapidly from 2010. It launched low-cost flights to the US from 2012 and opened a base at Gatwick in 2013 which became its largest as it developed a large network of short and long-haul services.
But by 2019 the carrier required radical restructuring.
In March 2019, Norwegian was forced to ground its fleet of Boeing 737 Max aircraft following two fatal crashes – of Ethiopian Airlines’ and Lion Air flights – and chief executive Bjorn Kjos stood down in June 2019.
After Covid-19 struck in March 2020, the airline declared the liquidation of several subsidiaries, the end of its long-haul flying and entered bankruptcy protection in Norway and Ireland.
A combination of debt write-offs, government aid, the return of aircraft to lessors, and lessors becoming the carrier’s largest shareholders allowed a slimmed-down Norwegian to emerge from bankruptcy in 2022 and relaunch.
Some of the airline’s Boeing 787 long-haul aircraft were picked up by start-up carrier Norse Atlantic Airways which began operating ‘low-cost’ transatlantic flights in June 2021, with former Norwegian chief Bjorn Kjos as a minority shareholder.
Norse Atlantic began operating from Gatwick to Orlando and Fort Lauderdale in May this year, in imitation of Norwegian’s former operation.