Norwegian Air, the low-cost long-haul airline that has shaken up travel between Europe and the Americas, is planning to offer flights to Canada in July, part of a new push by European carriers to grab a share of the Canadian market.
Norwegian Air International Ltd. joins Primera Air of Latvia and Level, a low-cost unit of International Airlines Group (IAG), in a new international challenge to Canada's three main carriers.
The move by the Europe-based carriers comes as Air Canada, Air Transat and WestJet Airlines Ltd. each increase capacity and add new destinations to Europe.
"It's certainly going to be a very, very crowded airspace across the North Atlantic," said aviation industry consultant Robert Kokonis, president of AirTrav Inc.
Norwegian Air International is a Dublin-based unit of Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA, which gives it the ability to take advantage of the Canada-EU open-skies treaty.
The Canadian Transportation Agency said in a ruling last week that there is "a high probability" Norwegian will be issued a licence in time for its proposed startup date of July 23.
Chase Burns, a London-based spokesman for Norwegian, confirmed the application, but said no routes or fares will be revealed until the airline receives final Transport Canada approval.
"Toronto, Montreal, maybe Vancouver, but certainly Toronto," are the likely Canadian destinations from Europe, Mr. Kokonis said. "I think Toronto is a no-brainer." Destinations in Europe could include Paris, Stockholm or Berlin, he said.
Primera Air will begin flights between Toronto and Stansted Airport near London in June. It will start out flying three times a week and is scheduled to increase that to five times weekly in August.
The schedule for IAG's Level shows it offering flights between Montreal and Paris beginning July 2. IAG is the parent company of British Airways, Aer Lingus and Iberia of Spain.
Level was established to compete against Norwegian, which flies between Europe and several U.S. cities, Europe and Buenos Aires and is setting up a unit of its own to fly domestically in Argentina.
As another sign of how Norwegian and other low-cost long-haul carriers are disrupting fare structures, American Airlines announced earlier this month that it will extend its low-cost basic economy fares to flights to Europe from the United States, beginning in April.
The increased competition out of Canadian airports means fares will fall, but a key question is which carriers will be able to sustain their operations for a long period, Mr. Kokonis said.
"I don't think there's going to be enough demand for all three of our national carriers – including Transat – plus Icelandair, plus Wow Air, plus Primera Air, plus Norwegian. Something's going to have to give."
Primera Air's website shows a return Toronto-Stansted fare of $976 in July. Air Canada's website shows none of its cheapest economy Tango seats available on flights between Toronto and London's Gatwick airport and a fare of $4301 for its economy flex fare.
WestJet's second-least expensive fare is about $1,300.
Norwegian offers a special fare pf US$484 between Dublin and Stewart International Airport north of New York, where the attraction is a mammoth outlet mall.
American Air's cheapest fare between JFK in New York and Dublin is US$820. Its website does not show the basic economy fare it will begin offering in April.