Norwegian Air unveils London-Rio flight, challenging ‘monopoly’

Budget carrier Norwegian Air plans to start flights between London and Rio de Janeiro in March to break what it said was a “monopoly” enjoyed by British Airways between the two cities.

The route from London’s Gatwick airport to Rio de Janeiro will start on March 31 and have four weekly flights, with fares starting at 1,200 reais ($307.72) one way, Norwegian said on Tuesday.

British Airways currently operates the Rio route without competition and shares the London to Sao Paulo route with LATAM Airlines Group.

Norwegian Chief Executive Officer Bjorn Kjos said the airline might explore flights from Sao Paulo to London in the future.

“That would be our next city,” Kjos said in a call with reporters. He added that the airline is not currently seeking to become a player in the domestic flight market within Brazil.

Brazilian Tourism Minister Vinicius Lummertz said in September that Norwegian was interested in operating in the domestic market, which is dominated by just four airlines, Gol Linhas Aereas Inteligentes, Latam, Azul SA and Avianca Holdings SA.

Brazilian law limits foreign airlines from entering the domestic market because it bans foreign carriers from incorporating within the country and does not allow them to own more than 20 percent of local airlines.

Brazilian President Michel Temer, who is weeks away from leaving office, had vowed to do away with this rule but has not delivered on it.

President-elect Jair Bolsonaro has not addressed the issue, though a bill allowing 100 percent ownership of Brazilian airlines by foreign investors could pass Congress before the end of the year.

British Airways is owned by International Consolidated Airlines Group SA (IAG), which also owns about 4 percent of Norwegian and has been courting the budget carrier for a possible takeover.