Norwegian Air CEO considers Airbus jets amid drawn-out Boeing litigation

OSLO, Feb 18 (Reuters) - Norwegian Air (NAS.OL) may order jets from Airbus (AIR.PA) in the future unless ongoing litigation with Boeing (BA.N) over previous aircraft cancellations is resolved in a timely fashion, the carrier's chief executive told Reuters on Friday.

Norwegian, which flies a Boeing-only fleet, emerged from bankruptcy protection last May but is still locked in a dispute over the cancellation of pre-pandemic orders for 97 Boeing aircraft, which is to be decided in U.S. legal proceedings.

It however managed to get a similar contract over deliveries from Airbus terminated.

Top executives of Norwegian, including Chief Executive Geir Karlsen, last month met with an Airbus sales team, Reuters reported at the time. Karlsen on Friday said this was part of a long-running dialogue.

"We see it as, shall we say, problematic to construct a fleet plan going forward with Boeing while we are sitting in the middle of a litigation with them," Karlsen said on the sidelines of a corporate earnings presentation.

"So we need to decide on what to do going forward and if it is even at all possible to come to a commercial deal with Boeing. We wish for that, but we haven't succeeded so far," he said.

Parked Boeing 737-800 aircrafts belonging to budget carrier Norwegian Air are pictured at Stockholm Arlanda Airport, Sweden, in this March 6, 2015 file photo. REUTERS/Johan Nilsson/TT News Agency

Boeing had no immediate comment, and an Airbus spokesman declined to comment.

Norwegian operated 51 Boeing 737 aircraft last year and has agreed leasing deals to expand this to 70 this year.

However, under the lease terms some of the aircraft can be substituted for "new technology narrow-body aircraft from either Boeing or Airbus", the two top rivals in the commercial aircraft market.

"We wish really to have a fleet which is partly owned and partly leased, and if we are going to do a new aircraft order again, time is sort of running away, you can say," Karlsen said.

He declined to comment on how urgently a decision was needed.

Norwegian and Airbus agreed in February last year on terms to repudiate the carrier's remaining contract for 88 new aircraft, lawyers representing the two firms told Ireland's High Court. Among the terms, Airbus was to keep deposits and was still owed 600,000 pounds ($816,540) by Norwegian. read more

($1 = 0.7348 pounds)

Reporting by Victoria Klesty, additional reporting by Tim Hepher; editing by Terje Solsvik, Kirsten Donovan

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.