Norwegian Air wanted to bring a low-cost business model to transatlantic flights. It’s quickly running out of runway.
The coronavirus pandemic and travel restrictions have forced Norwegian Air to ground the vast majority of its fleet, and furlough almost all of its workers. The heavily indebted carrier’s stock has collapsed, and its cash reserves are nearly exhausted.
“Norwegian is dependent on additional working capital in order to continue operating through the first quarter of 2021 and beyond,” the airline said Tuesday as it reported its latest financial results.
One potential rescuer has already turned its back on the airline that once had ambitions to repeat Ryanair’s (RYAAY) short-haul success on longer routes. Norwegian Air said on Monday that the Norwegian government has ruled out providing it with more financial assistance, leaving the carrier in what it described as a “challenging situation.”
CEO Jacob Schram said in a statement that the decision “is very disappointing and feels like a slap in the face.” Airlines around the world are getting significant financial support from their respective governments, he said, and Norwegian Air should receive the same because of its contribution to Norway’s economy. “How anyone could come to a different conclusion is impossible to understand,” said Schram.
The CEO went further during a press conference. “I exclude nothing now,” Schram told journalists in Oslo, according to the Financial Times. “That involves [bankruptcy], firings, layoffs.”
Norwegian Air was founded in 1993 but began a rapid expansion nearly a decade ago, seeking to apply the business model pioneered by Ryanair in Europe and Southwest in the United States to transatlantic flights. In 2012, it placed an order for 222 aircraft, the biggest in European aviation history. But the aggressive strategy left it with huge debts, and little room to maneuver when things went wrong.
Tuesday’s earnings statement shows that Norwegian Air is in significant distress. The carrier operated just 25 of its 140 planes during the third quarter, and passenger numbers dropped to 1 million from 10.5 million during the same period last year.
The company’s quarterly operating loss came in at 2.8 billion crowns ($310 million), while revenue slumped 91% from the prior year to 1.3 billion crowns ($143 million). Cash and cash equivalents had dwindled to just 3.4 billion crowns ($376 million) at the end of September.
Schram said the government’s decision not to provide aid would force him to further reduce the number of people employed over the coming months to 600, down from over 10,000 before the pandemic. More aircraft will be taken out of commission, and the airline will cut the number of domestic routes it flies.
“The company is currently evaluating the effects of the current situation with an aim to safeguard the interest of all stakeholders,” it said on Tuesday.
Analysts at Bernstein said the government’s decision not to provide support would make it “difficult to continue operating the company.”
“It is likely that this decision, combined with the continued lockdown measures will be the end of the line for the company. There is little hope to recover any equity from this business,” Daniel Roeska and Alex Irving wrote in a research note.
While other airline stocks soared Monday on hopes that a coronavirus vaccine will fuel a recovery in travel, Norwegian shares fell 13%. The stock was modestly higher on Tuesday, but it has still lost more than 98% of its value so far this year.