Norwegian prepares to debut new low-cost long-haul links to San Juan

The host of next year’s Routes Americas forum is making final preperations to welcome Norwegian into Puerto Rico with just a week until the European airline debuts its low-cost, long-haul offering into San Juan as part of its ongoing expansion of its network between Europe and North America. The latest stage of its network growth sees the Nordic carrier is introducing flights to San Juan from Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm and London from the start of November 2015.

Building on the success of this year’s event in Denver, USA, Routes Americas 2016 will take place in February 2016, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The event, which is the route development forum for the entire Americas region, will be hosted by Puerto Rico Tourism Company with the support of their partners Aerostar Airport Holdings LLC and MeetPuertoRico. Find out more: Routes Americas 2016

Norwegian already offers long-haul flights to Bangkok in Thailand and Ft Lauderdale, Los Angeles, New York, Oakland and Orlando in the United States, but is boosting its offering into new markets. All its existing routes are served using its Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner fleet.

According to Norwegian’s newly uploaded flight schedule, San Juan will be served by five weekly flights from Europe during the winter 2015/2016 schedule which runs from October 25, 2015 through to March 26, 2016. There will be weekly flights from Copenhagen (on Fridays, returning via St Croix in the United States Virgin Islands), Oslo (Sundays) and Stockholm (Tuesdays) and twice weekly flights from London Gatwick (Wednesdays and Saturdays). The flights will commence in the first week of November 2015 and like its existing long-haul network flown using 291-seat 787-8s.

The response we’ve had on our intercontinental destinations has been overwhelming and it is obvious that affordable fares were scarce before Norwegian entered the market. This makes it even more enjoyable to add more destinations to our route map of more than 100 destinations. We are looking forward to welcoming new and returning customers on our new routes from Puerto Rico to Europe,” said Thomas Ramdahl, chief commercial officer, Norwegian.

The market from Europe to Puerto Rico is currently massively underserved, with a significant percentage of indirect passengers already flying between the two markets. In the past 12 months this market size was an estimated 150,000 passengers, with 87 per cent having to travel indirect due to the current limited direct offering across the Atlantic.

There are currently only two regular links to San Juan from Europe with German leisure carrier and Thomas Cook Airline Group subsidiary Condor offering a link from Frankfurt and Spanish carrier and SkyTeam alliance member Air Europa linking San Juan to Madrid. Alongside existing demand for cruise and package tours from tour operators in the UK, Norwegian will be able stimulate demand for independent travellers looking to fly to Puerto Rico.

As the chart below from analysis by leading route development consultants ASM illustrates, the United Kingdom is the largest unserved market between Europe and Puerto Rico with an estimated 25,000 passengers flying between the two, the majority using indirect connections via US hub airports through transatlantic services from the US majors and their partners and adding around four to ten hours to the journey.

Puerto Rico offers a unique combination of beach resorts, history, nature, gambling and cruise holiday experience and its strategic location coupled with its already strong connectivity makes it the best connected destination in the Caribbean and potentially a hub for onward connections across the region with particularly strong connectivity into the Dominican Republic, US Virgin Islands, Netherlands Antilles and the British Virgin Islands

Located just above the Equator, between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, Puerto Rico is part of the Greater Antilles right at the heart of the Western Hemisphere. This strategic and uniquely centralised location makes it the perfect connection between north and south and continues to benefit from having the ‘best of both worlds’.

A commonwealth of the United States of America, a political relationship which dates back over 60 years, Puerto Rico offers US citizens the advantage of being able to travel to the destination without the need of a passport. The island is home to the largest airport and cruise homeport in the Caribbean and is a premier convention destination in the region.

"Puerto Rico is more than ready to broaden its horizons in the European market and we are very excited to welcome Norwegian's new service to San Juan. Puerto Rico offers an outstanding variety of options making it an attractive a five-star Caribbean destination accessible to British and Scandinavian travelers. We are certain that Norwegian’s five weekly flights will significantly boost and diversify the tourism industry in Puerto Rico,” said Ingrid I. Rivera Rocafort, executive director, Puerto Rico Tourism Company.

“Puerto Rico is more than ready to broaden its horizons in the European market and we are very excited to welcome Norwegian's new service to San Juan. We are certain that Norwegian’s five weekly flights will significantly boost and diversify the tourism industry in Puerto Rico.”

Ingrid I. Rivera Rocafort
Executive Director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company

The arrival of Norwegian in Puerto Rico is a massive development for Puerto Rico Tourism Company given how strongly Norwegian has stimulated markets with its earlier long-haul routes. Based on its five times weekly schedule, Norwegian will introduce around annual 75,000 seats into Puerto Rico.

"With two flights per week to London Gatwick it is expected to carry over 50,000 passengers per annum in this market with sizeable behind and beyond demand support the city pair, while around 20,000 passengers per annum are likely to be accommodated on the Scandinavian routes with particularly strong local demand. The London flights have been especially scheduled on the Saturday to meet the strong cruise demand and meet arriving/departing ships," Nigel Mayes, SVP Consulting & Product Development, ASM, told Routesonline ahead of the announcement earlier this year.

ASM currently support Puerto Rico with its route development strategy and has worked to secure these new routes for its client over the last 18 months, securing meetings with Norwegian in Oslo, creating a traffic forecast and business plan, shaping the marketing support package and ensuring that San Juan won this service over and above the many over destinations that were pitching for these aircraft. You can find out more about ASM here.

"We would like to congratulate the team at Puerto Rico Tourism Company and Aerostar Airport Holdings. It is always important to have the airport authority supported by the tourism authority and when both entities work together, it gives us confidence that the route will be well supported. We know ASM always encourages tourism authorities and airports to work closely together and they always provide a detailed market study behind any opportunity," said Madeleine Rieber Waldjac, director network, Norwegian.

It has been a good couple of years for San Juan’s Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport with new routes from JetBlue Airways and United Airlines to Chicago and Avianca to Bogotá, Colombia starting in 2013, and alongside the Air Europa Madrid link launched in May 2014, an additional Delta Air Lines service from Detroit and a new link from Houston Hobby via Southwest Airlines was added to the San Juan network. This year the airport has welcomed an additional Delta service to Minneapolis; additional Avianca frequencies into Colombia and new service to Fort Myers, Florida via Sun Country Airlines.

This has helped the airport grow passenger demand by over 330,000 passengers between fiscal year 2011/2012 and 2013/2014 as traffic has grown from just over eight million passengers to approaching 8.5 million over a two year period. The growth of JetBlue in San Juan is understood to particularly interest Norwegian and the carrier is likely to look to develop a soft relationship with the US carrier to build connecting traffic.

JetBlue made its debut at San Juan in May 2002 and is now the largest carrier in Puerto Rico, with more flights to and from the Island than any other airline. The carrier has grown its operations on a year-on-year basis since its debut in 2002. In 2007, after five years of operation, the carrier had just a 5.6 per cent share of capacity with around 400,000 seats from San Juan.

By 2010, JetBlue had become the second largest carrier at San Juan with over 860,000 seats from Luis Munoz Marin International Airport, a 15.8 per cent share, a position it also held in 2011 when it offered over one million seats for the first time. A continued network growth meant JetBlue over took American Airlines as the largest carrier at San Juan in 2012 offering over 1.6 million seats, a 29.7 per cent share.

Norwegian's long-haul growth is not limited to Puerto Rico and alongside its new flights to San Juan, the carrier is also introducing services from Copenhagen and Stockholm to Las Vegas, as well as adding Oslo to the destinations it links to Los Angeles. Copenhagen will also be linked to the US Virgin islands with a weekly flight to St Croix in combination with the new San Juan service, while London Gatwick will gain additional frequencies to Los Angeles and New York.

The selection of St Croix, the largest of the three US Virgin Islands alongside St Thomas and St John, may surprise many, but there are historical links between the islands and Denmark. For nearly 200 years, St Croix, St Thomas and St John were known as the Danish West Indies, but In 1916 Denmark sold the islands to the United States and they were renamed the US Virgin Islands.

In regards to the Las Vegas flights, Norwegian will be the only airline offering direct flights to Sin City from both Stockholm and Copenhagen. Increasing accessibility to Las Vegas will introduce the destination to millions of potential new visitors and help it achieve its goal of 30 per cent international visitation over the next decade.

Richard Maslen

Richard Maslen has travelled across the globe to report on developments in the aviation sector as airlines and airports have continued to evolve and…