Budget Norwegian airline to begin flights in Argentina in late 2017

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Low-cost airline Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA will begin operating flights in Argentina beginning in late 2017, a spokesman said on Friday, as more air travel operators seek a foothold in Latin America’s No. 3 economy.

The company plans to open two or three operating bases and begin passenger flights by November. It already has begun the relevant regulatory processes. Spokesman Alfons Claver did not say which routes the airline plans to run but expects to have bases in Buenos Aires, Cordoba and possibly Mendoza.

“South America is a very interesting market characterized by little competition and high prices,” Claver said in a statement.

He said the company was in the process of sending representatives to Argentina to set up bases and routes. International flights were also a possibility.

Argentina’s domestic airline industry is currently dominated by state-owned Aerolineas Argentinas SA [AERA.UL] and Chilean Latam Airlines Group SA. Long-haul bus routes connecting the country’s major cities and tourist destinations remain a popular form of travel.

Since taking office a year ago, Argentine President Mauricio Macri has pledged to attract international investment to boost the recession-stricken economy and improve the country’s transportation infrastructure, including airports.

In September, the government said it would invest 22.2 billion pesos ($1.39 billion) to modernize the country’s airports in part to boost passenger capacity.

Colombia's Avianca Holdings SA AVT_p.CN, one of Latin America's largest airlines, requested approval earlier this month to operate domestic and international flights in Argentina.

Mendoza, the country’s fourth largest city and home to vineyards that are a popular tourist attraction, recently completed an expansion of its airport to allow for more international flights and boost its capacity to 50 daily flights.

Mendoza province Governor Alfredo Cornejo said at an event in New York this week that it plans to operate 30 flights daily by January, up from 21 currently. It also plans routes to Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro on Brazil’s Gol Linhas Aereas Inteligentes SA, and to Lima and Santiago through Latam.

Macri has said he wants to make it easier for Argentines to travel internationally without transferring in Buenos Aires.

Norwegian plans to devote between six and 10 aircraft to Argentina and expects to transport between 2 million and 3.5 million people in its first full year of operations in the country.

Reporting by Luc Cohen, additional reporting by Dion Rabouin in New York