UPDATE 1-Norwegian Air eyes pre-pandemic European travel demand in 2023-24

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OSLO, April 29 (Reuters) – Budget airline Norwegian Air expects demand for European short-haul travel to return to pre-pandemic levels in 2023 or 2024, it said as it presented a first-quarter pretax loss of 1.19 billion crowns ($145 million) on Thursday.

The carrier this month said it aims to raise 6 billion crowns in fresh capital, up from the 4.5 billion originally planned, as part of a scheme to emerge from court-ordered bankruptcy protection next month.

“It is not expected that demand for short-haul travel in Europe will return to 2019 levels before 2023 or 2024 and so Norwegian will deploy capacity back into the market at a pace that matches this,” the airline said in a statement.

Financed largely by debt, Norwegian Air grew rapidly as it served routes across Europe and to North and South America, Southeast Asia and the Middle East before the COVID-19 pandemic plunged the airline into crisis.

The carrier is currently operating nine aircraft, mainly on Norwegian domestic routes.

Once travel restrictions lift, it plans to ramp up operations to a peak of about 50 short-haul aircraft in 2021 and around 70 short-haul aircraft in 2022, it said on Thursday.

Of the bankruptcy protection process, Norwegian Air said it was nearing “successful completion” both in Ireland and Norway.

The capital increase is due to close “on or about” May 26, it added, referring to the day Norwegian Air is due to leave the Irish examinership and the Norwegian reconstruction processes. ($1 = 8.2093 Norwegian crowns)

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