Can British Airways owner International Airlines Group (IAG) make a deal for Norwegian Air fly?
It has turned up unannounced in the low cost carrier’s departure lounge, brandishing its corporate cheque book.
IAG’s boss Willie Walsh is clearly hoping that the 4.6 per cent stake his company has quietly built up will grant him priority boarding and the right to talk to Norwegian’s punchy pilot Bjorn Kos, who controls a quarter of the company’s stock, about buying the plane out.
Given the way the previously low flying shares have taken off, the price could be a high one.
Norwegian has been busy ruffling feathers through applying a low cost model to long haul flights, but it has also been losing a lot of money having leased a lot of planes in a rapid expansion.
That said, its concept is proving to be popular with customers, and the company has been serving as disruptive force in an industry that’s already seen short haul routes following the low cost route.
IAG wants to board the Norwegian flight before someone else does and before Mr Kos gets to the stage where his company is more likely to be playing predator than prey.
But there are grounds to question whether IAG can make Norwegian’s model fly if it can get into the cockpit.
British Airways has history with low cost carriers. It tried to Go Fly the idea in the late 1990s only to end up selling the so named airline to its management in the early noughties. They then made a nice turn for themselves and their private equity backers by selling it on to EasyJet. A real low cost operator and a successful one at that.
That was a very long time ago in corporate germs and the industry has changed dramatically since then. BA joined forces with Iberian and the combined group now owns multiple airlines including Aer Lingus, and a smallish Spanish outfit that operates in the cheap as chips sector named Vueling. It also launched the concept of LEVEL, a long haul low cost virtual airline under the control of Iberian, last year. The latter is now being given its head as an independent subsidiary.
But there’s a reason the short haul scene came to be dominated by low cost carriers and why Ryanair felt it could justifiably pinch BA’s slogan and call itself “the world’s favourite airline” after becoming the first airline in the world to carry 100m international customers in a year.
Despite the controversies it has caused, not least last year’s over cancelled flights, Ryanair knows exactly what it’s about and it does it very well.
IAG, by contrast, is an agglomeration of different national carriers and different business models. Whether it can become the Ryanair of long haul with Norwegian is open to question.
That’s if it can even get a deal done. Mr Kos, a former fighter pilot turned lawyer, won’t easily be persuaded to give up his baby.
The airline industry has often been used as the setting for TV dramas and films. As it plays out, this one could become one of the business world’s more entertaining, and long running, soaps.