As the launch customer for the E190-E2, Widerøe Airlines is moving into jets for the first time. But the company is far from inexperienced, having begun operations in 1934 and is the oldest airline in Norway. It currently operates a fleet of Bombardier turboprops and serves some of the most difficult airports in the world in a climate where -40C is not an unusual winter temperature. Because roads and seas may become impassable in winter, Widerøe has become a vital element, if not the backbone, of transportation for a number of communities.
Widerøe currently operates a fleet of 41 Bombardier turboprops, including 22 Dash-8-100 models and 3 Dash-8-200 models with 37 seats each, 6 Dash-8-300s with 50 seats, and 10 Q400s with 78 seats.
The company’s route structure, shown below, illustrates the short-haul STOL nature of some of the routes in northern Norway as well as routes connecting the south and north of Norway that are much longer in stage length.
Many of the flights in northern Norway require STOL operations to short airfields, and the company, which has large MRO and ground handling organizations, has performed a life extension on its Dash-8-100 turboprops from 80,000 hours to 120,000 hours, enabling their continued operation until 2030. Their Dash-8-100s typically operate 23 segments per day, with the smallest segment a 6.25-minute flight across a fjord that would require a 3-hour drive in summer, when the road is accessible. Widerøe has strong experience in difficult operational environments.
The company, based in Boda, has major bases in Bergen and Oslo. By bringing on the E190-E2, the company plans to increase its capacity on longer-haul domestic routes, as well as introduce new routes into Europe to take advantage of both business and an increasing demand for tourism to Norway.
One of the major reasons Widerøe cited for choosing the E190-E2 was rightsizing, and the ability to operate a fleet of aircraft optimized for their size. The company is also considering the E175-E2 for its 12 options, which it is likely to execute next year once the initial three E190-E2 aircraft are in operation. By having the option to utilize a smaller aircraft with the same type rating, Widerøe would not need to train the second set of pilots for an 80-seat aircraft, something Bombardier could not offer.
Widerøe plans to utilize the E190-E2 out of Bergen, enabling travelers an option to the north of Norway without the need to change aircraft in Oslo.
Widerøe may also be the ideal airline to introduce hybrid-electric aircraft, and Stein Nilsen, their CEO, is very interested in new technologies. With many routes that are only 10-20 miles in stage length, but vital to their communities, northern Norway could become the testbed for new technologies, as well as battery functionality in extremely cold weather and inclement weather conditions. If new technologies can meet Widerøe’s requirements, they can likely work anywhere.
Embraer asked Widerøe to be the launch customer for the E190-E2 because of the airline’s capabilities in MRO and ground handling, and their long experience in handling tough conditions. Widerøe took up the challenge since Embraer had confidence in their capabilities to successfully introduce the aircraft into a more challenging environment than most airlines face.
The Bottom Line
The E190-E2 found a robust launch customer in Widerøe, which has strong engineering and MRO capabilities and a ground handling network throughout Norway that can properly care for the new aircraft. Their CEO, Stein Nilsen, indicated that they can’t wait to get their hands on the first aircraft and introduce it into scheduled service, echoing an excitement we felt from the entire Widerøe team in Saõ Jose dos Campos.
On a long trip to Norway last September I flew on all of Widerøe’s aircraft types. I found every time that having always been given the advance seat selection that I requested, when I boarded the aircraft nobody took any notice of their seat allocations. Consequently I always found myself at the back of the aircraft! Widerøe does operate some fairly long domestic sectors with its Q400s: one flight I took was Tromsø-Bergen, which was in the air for about two and a half hours.