Norwegian Air Shuttle says it had no prior knowledge of International Airline Group’s plan to snap up almost 5 percent of its shares and launch a wave of takeover speculation.
IAG confirmed on Thursday that it had acquired a 4.61 percent stake in Norwegian and that the investment was intended “to establish a position from which to initiate discussions with Norwegian, including the possibility of a full offer for Norwegian”.
The European airline group, which includes British Airways and Spain’s Iberia, said it considered Norwegian an attractive investment.
But it said no discussions had taken place, it had not yet decided whether to make an offer and there was no certainty that a decision would be made.
“A further announcement will be made if appropriate,’’ it said.
Norwegian responded by saying it had no prior knowledge of the investment before it was reported by the media mid-Thursday morning and confirmed it has not been in any discussions or dialogue about the matter with IAG.
“Norwegian believes that interest from one of the largest international aviation groups demonstrates the sustainability and potential of our business model and global growth,” it said.
A move by IAG to acquire Norwegian would take out a troublesome rival.
The low-cost carrier has grown rapidly to become one of Europe’s biggest LCCs, flying to more than 150 destinations worldwide with a growing fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliners, 737 MAXs and 737-800s.
But has been losing money because of its aggressive expansion, prompting industry skepticism about the viability of its longer-haul flights.
It had $US 2.9 billion in debt at the end of 2017, according to The Wall Street Journal, and last month was forced to raise equity amounting to almost a quarter of its total pre-IAG bid market valuation of almost $900 million.
It has also has warned it might have to sell planes and its frequent flyer program.
Nonetheless, it has been a serious thorn in the side of full-service carriers since it started trans-Atlantic flights five years ago and for British Airways since it began the UK’s first long-haul, low-cost flights to the US in 2014.
It now carries 5.8 million passengers a year from London Gatwick. Edinburgh and Manchester airports to 50 destinations worldwide, including 11 in the US.
Its low fares and rapid growth have prompted full-service carriers such as BA to unbundle their products to offer “basic” fares across the Atlantic in order to compete.
IAG also started a rival low-cost carrier, LEVEL, to counter Norwegian’s rise on the market.