Fish farm anger over airline’s cuts

Norwegian regional airline Widerøe is said to be axing at least 15 per cent of its services

THE Norwegian fish farming sector has expressed fears over a regional airline’s plan to cut dozens of services flights, mostly in the centre north of the country.

Widerøe is reported to be axing at least 15 per cent of its services, making up some 25 routes serving one of the largest concentrations of salmon and trout  farming in the northern hemisphere. Centres such as Narvik, Bodø and Andanes are expected to be particularly hard hit.

The airline says it has been forced to take action because of a weaker kroner and high government airport fees. These have combined to hit the airline’s profit margins.

Widerøe has an annual turnover of NOK 4.5 billion, but its profits are just NOK 40 million, giving an operating margin of barely one per cent.

Although its planes generally do not carry fish cargo, salmon breeders see the services they provide as vital to their business, to get to the capital and onward international destinations during the winter, in particular, when roads are blocked by snow.

An angry Alf Gøran Knutsen, who runs a NOK 1 billion fish farming business in the north, told the website Dn.no that if the cuts go ahead there will be very few air services left in northern Norway.

NHO, the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise, has told the government that cuts on the scale proposed should not be permitted because of the damage they will do to seafood and other sectors, adding there has been a heavy tax burden on the aviation industry over the past two years.

The airline, which operates a fleet of almost 50 aircraft, mainly short and medium haul turbo-props, has asked for urgent talks with the government before deciding which routes to cut.

It says it appreciates that regions such as Finnmark will be hit, but it cannot afford to run services at a loss.