Barcelona to have a direct flight to Silicon Valley for the first time

The low-cost carrier Norwegian Airlines to fly from Barcelona to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami and New York from this summer and to open a regional hub in El Prat airport

The summer currently coming to an end is the last in which passengers need to make a stopover in airports such as Heathrow or Amsterdam to reach the West Coast of the United States from Barcelona. The low-cost Scandinavian carrier, Norwegian Airlines, has made good on the promise it made one year ago by announcing the roll-out of four new routes to the United States, two of them on the West Coast, from 5 June next year. In fact, the Norwegian airline has exceeded the expectations it created last year by not only announcing the four routes, but also by establishing a long-haul hub at Barcelona Airport which will begin by offering flights to Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Miami. And its plans don’t stop there. CEO Bjorn Kjos told ARA that Barcelona will be a hub for other long-haul direct flights, to destinations such as the Caribbean, Latin America and Asia.

Norwegian Airlines filled the Catalonia conference hall in El Prat Airport’s Terminal 2 with representatives from the various institutions in order to announce four direct flights to Los Angeles, San Francisco (Oakland), New York (Newark) and Miami (Fort Lauderdale). The presentation took on an institutional significance since it represents a landmark in the history of the airport. The announcement is another step in partially overcome unfinished business for Catalan infrastructure: intercontinental connections via long-haul flights. In 1993 Iberia moved its direct New York, Moscow and Tokyo flights to Madrid. Since then the availability of direct long-haul services from Barcelona airport had been reduced to a handful of flights to various cities on the East Coast (such as New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Montreal), while there were no direct flights to America’s West Coast. Even now there are no direct flights to China or Japan.

"This announcement is another step towards ensuring that the airport becomes an intercontinental hub", declared the Minister of Territory and Sustainability Josep Rull during the presentation. He insisted that if El Prat Airport is the most profitable in Spain, it is not "because we subsidize it", but because "it has potential". The City’s Deputy Mayor, Jaume Collboni, also welcomed the news during the launch. Collboni sees the increased connectivity of the Catalan airport as being directly related to businesses deciding to base themselves in Barcelona and the surrounding area.

In total, Norwegian Airlines will offer 325,000 intercontinental seats next year, 170,000 of which are on its California route. Indeed, as the company’s CEO pointed out, the Barcelona-San Francisco route is the only direct flight between the US city and any Spanish airport.

The four routes will operate year-round and will have between two and four flights a week, with fares starting at 199 euros per leg. In order to begin to operate the service, Norwegian Airlines has two Boeing 787-8, which will be permanently based in El Prat, one from 5 June 2017 and the other from 22 August, when the route to Miami will start to operate. According to the airline, the new initiative will double its number of staff in El Prat. It currently has five aircraft, 175 pilots and cabin crew and more than 150 people between ground staff and office workers. From now until next August, the workforce will increase to 600, since each aircraft will require 85 extra employees.

An unfulfilled demand

"We wanted to offer these connections before, but we didn’t have the planes ready", Bjorn Kjos told ARA. Norwegian's CEO stressed that Barcelona is a destination with a great potential, especially thanks to tourism, which explains why Norwegian is growing at a rate of 41% per year in the Catalan capital, representing more than 20% of all the airline’s business in Spain.

The Scandinavian airline is now meeting a shortfall in increasing demand from Barcelona. Last year 145,000 passengers flew to the West Coast from the Catalan capital despite the lack of direct flights. This represents a figure that the airline could absorb, and even increase, since it will offer 170,000 seats between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

THE KEYS

Why Norwegian Airlines and not another carrier?
In most airports which are hubs, one airline (traditionally the national carrier, such as British Airways in the UK or Air France in France) establishes its principle base from which to fly to the rest of the world. In Barcelona, Iberia was the only airline which was able to fulfill this role, but it concentrated the entirety of its long-haul operations in Madrid. Norwegian Airlines, however, is a low-cost carrier with a system of multiple hubs which allows it to provide several long-haul destinations from places such as Stockholm, London and Barcelona.

How can a low-cost airline offer long-haul flights?
According to a spokesperson for the airline, the end user won’t notice the difference between Norwegian’s and a conventional service. The difference between a traditional company and a low-cost carrier is in its cost structure and its cabin occupancy. If demand is guaranteed and fuel costs are kept to a minimum (partly because its planes are new), Norwegian can even offer its service on long-haul flights. Nevertheless, these are not flights to the US for 15 euros, as Ryanair has occasionally promised. The starting price of each leg is 200 euros.

What is Norwegian Airways’ current presence in El Prat?
The airline began flying to El Prat in 2008 and established its short-haul hub there in 2014 together with its regional headquarters covering southern Europe. It currently flies to 22 short-haul destinations. The US routes are the first long-haul flights it will offer from Barcelona. The airline also flies to the Middle East, Thailand and the Caribbean from other European cities.
The airline began flying to El Prat in 2008 and established its short-haul hub there in 2014 together with its regional headquarters covering southern Europe. It currently flies to 22 short-haul destinations. The US routes are the first long-haul flights it will offer from Barcelona. The airline also flies to the Middle East, Thailand and the Caribbean from other European cities.

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