Norwegian Air CEO says summer bookings strong, well covered with pilots

OSLO (Reuters) - The CEO of budget carrier Norwegian Air NWC.OL, under pressure to staff its fleet as it ramps up transatlantic business, said the airline has "more than enough" pilots to cover strong bookings this summer.

FILE PHOTO: Bjorn Kjos, CEO of Norwegian Group, speaks during the presentation of Norwegian Air first low cost transatlantic flight service from Argentina at Ezeiza airport in Buenos Aires, Argentina, March 8, 2018. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci/File Photo

The company, which has been courted by British Airways owner IAG ICAG.L, struggled last summer to have enough pilots on duty and had to lease extra planes and staff, which weighed on its bottom line.

“We have more than enough pilots this year and we have hired many pilots that we have trained up. We are very well covered for the summer,” CEO Bjoern Kjos told Reuters.

Asked whether bookings for the busy summer season were strong, Kjos said: “Yes.”

Norwegian Air shares rose by as much as 10 percent before closing 1.25 percent up, against a 0.75 percent decline for the Oslo benchmark index .OSEBX.

Ryanair RYA.I last year approached Norwegian with a proposal to take a stake of about 20 percent in the Oslo-listed carrier, a source with close knowledge of the discussion told Reuters separately.

Europe’s largest and third-largest low-cost airlines respectively, Ryanair and Norwegian compete for passengers as well as pilots and crews across the continent.

Kjos said there had been contact between the companies, but declined to discuss any details.

“I can confirm that Ryanair has shown interest in Norwegian Air and that I brought it up with the board,” he said.

Ryanair disputed the statement. “There is no truth to these claims. We have not made an approach to Norwegian and we have no interest,” Ryanair said in an emailed statement to Reuters.

IAG last month disclosed it had bought a 4.6 percent stake in Norwegian, but the budget carrier later said it had rejected two takeover proposals.

“What the shareholders should think of is that we are in the initial phase of harvesting significant value following a strong expansion. Our growth will begin to level off in the autumn,” Kjos said.

He declined to say if there had been any more contact with IAG.

Additional reporting by Padraic Halpin in Dublin, writing by Terje Solsvik; Editing by Gwladys Fouche, Mark Heinrich and David Goodman