Objective: to become the number one group in Europe for air transport. So, Willie Walsh, CEO of the International Airlines Group (IAG), decided to give the final assault to Norwegian Air Shuttle, pioneer of the long-haul, low-cost company but with a very attractive network of European routes.
If the operation was to go ahead, the Group, which already includes Iberia, British Airways, Aer Lingus, Vueling, and Level, would in one fell swoop over giants Ryanair and Lufthansa Group (Lufthansa, Swiss, Austrian Airlines, Eurowings, Brussels Airlines, Air Dolomiti) reach over 130 million passengers transported each year and become the European aviation leader.
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IAG, with capitalization of about 14 billion euros, transported 104.8 million passengers in 2017 – according to data from Capa, Center for Aviation – while Norwegian reached 33.2 million passengers.
The negotiation, in fact, already started some time ago, partly because the Walsh-led Group owned around 4.61% of the Scandinavian carrier’s shares for some months, but the obstacle at present remains the selling price, according to the Il Corriere della Sera (Italian daily) evening edition.
If Willie Walsh has been courting the Norwegian low-cost for a long time, CEO of Norwegian Air Shuttle, Bjørn Kjos, has never said anything against the acquisition but has refused two offers from the Spanish-British group, still not considering the proposed price.
The reply of HO Oslo to the requests for more information by the Italian daily: “In the past, our board of directors has received two conditional offers from IAG aimed at acquiring 100% of the Norwegian capital. These proposals were examined together with financial and legal advisors, and they were rejected unanimously, because they underestimated Norwegian and its development prospects.”
The acquisition of Norwegian Air would become a strategic asset for the development of IAG (which among its shareholders also sees Qatar Airways with 20% of the shares), because Willie Walsh is looking with great interest to the network of medium-range connections inside Europe, in addition to the positioning and the many slots owned by Norwegian at two major hubs: London Gatwick and Barcelona.
A future of middle cost?
Walsh’s objective would be to bring Norwegian into the Group’s “middle cost” sector, or to support the Norwegian carrier at Iberia Express and Aer Lingus in that target market that fosters both low cost but is also attractive to the business, also focusing on the good connections that Norwegian makes to the USA.
Even in this case, however, IAG’s requests are conditional on a company healed, because Norwegian continues to open new routes on the transatlantic axis although its accounts maintain a distress.
It is no coincidence that, in the last year, the Scandinavian carrier has undergone a real restructuring with the sale of some aircraft, cutting or reducing unprofitable connections. Result? In the third quarter of 2018, Norwegian reported a net profit of 137 million euros, marking a +18% versus the same period of the previous year. At this point, it remains only to understand if this operation is efficiently sufficient as a dowry for marriage with IAG. In turn, Willie Walsh must produce the offer that finally convinces finally Bjørn Kjos.