Ryanair, Norwegian Air end talks on flight connections

DUBLIN/OSLO (Reuters) - Budget airlines Ryanair RYA.I and Norwegian Air Shuttle NWC.OL have halted talks on a flight connection agreement, both companies said on Monday.

Slideshow ( 4 images )

Norwegian Air, which recently agreed a partnership with easyJet EZJ.L to make its long-distance flights available to easyJet customers, confirmed an earlier statement by Ryanair Chief Executive Michael O'Leary that talks with the Irish airline on a similar agreement had ended.

“Norwegian welcomes any initiatives that offer passengers smooth, affordable transfers between flights and we are delighted to have entered into partnership with easyJet which was an obvious and natural fit for each airline’s large and growing networks,” Norwegian Air said in a statement to Reuters.

“Previous discussions with Ryanair are no longer active,” it said.

Earlier on Monday, Ryanair and Norwegian Air disagreed publicly over the number of staff each was poaching from the other.

Ryanair has been seeking deals to provide short-haul “feeder flights” to link passengers to routes operated by long-haul carriers and had planned to start serving fellow low-cost operator Norwegian Air earlier this year.

The fast-growing budget Scandinavian carrier told Reuters last week that it was still talking to Ryanair about a potential partnership, if Europe’s largest airline by passenger numbers was willing to join it.

O’Leary cited concern over Norwegian Air’s financial position as the reason for ending the talks. After similar comments last month, Norwegian Air rejected O’Leary’s concerns as nonsense that had “no basis in reality.”

“I doubt it,” O’Leary told a news conference on Monday when asked if an agreement with Norwegian Air was still possible.

"At this point in time, given our concerns over Norwegian's financial viability, I think we have brought to an end the discussions with Norwegian. We're focussing now on our discussions with Air Europa and Aer Lingus ICAG.L."

O’Leary made the comments as he admitted on Monday to a “cock up” over rostering that led him to cancel flights and disrupt the plans of hundreds of thousands of travellers, wiping over 2 percent off Ryanair’s share price.

Ryanair said it was not short of pilots after Norwegian Air said it had hired more than 140 of the Irish airline’s pilots this year.

O’Leary said it had lost less than 100 of its 4,200 pilots and had recruited some from its rival, meaning it could fully crew its peak schedule.

Norwegian Air has embarked on an ambitious expansion plan buying more than 200 new fuel-efficient jets, but investors worry its drive to put more passengers on more planes is pushing up costs quickly without producing higher returns.

Reporting by Padraic Halpin in Dublin and Terje Solsvik in Oslo; Editing by Adrian Croft and Edmund Blair