STEWART AIRPORT — Norwegian Air’s final flight from New York Stewart International Airport will depart Saturday the same way its first one arrived two years ago: full.
“It was good while it lasted,’’ said Peter Thompson, of Middletown, as he recalled the two seamless trips to Europe his family took on Norwegian. “I had to drive my son to Newark recently for a flight to Seattle, and that drive is a killer. The ease (of using Stewart) really spoiled us.”
But Thompson and the like-minded travelers who filled Norwegian’s seats flight after flight — and who had booked flights through March 2020 — ultimately weren’t enough to keep the low-cost carrier at Stewart and other secondary East Coast airports.
The loss of Norwegian, which began servicing Stewart in June 2017, leaves the international airport without any international passenger flights.
Matthew Wood, Norwegian’s senior vice president, announced Aug. 12 that the airline had concluded its remaining trans-Atlantic routes were “no longer commercially viable” and would be discontinued as of Sept. 14.
Norwegian had already scaled back operations significantly at Stewart, to seven flights a week to a single destination from a peak of 27 to multiple ones, to contain costs. By December, its aggressive expansion had brought the company to the brink of bankruptcy and forced it to retrench to secure new capital.
The rocky transition to a profitable company from a growing one, Wood added, had been complicated by the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max and the uncertainty of its return to service.
Norwegian, which had purchased the fuel-efficient planes specifically for its new East Coast-Europe schedule, found itself with 18 737 Max — and more on order — when international aviation authorities prohibited use of the plane.
The grounding came in March, after a second fatal crash in five months raised questions about the new plane’s safety. Boeing subsequently identified some flaws but hasn’t fully settled on fixes that satisfy aviation authorities.
“I guess it was inevitable,’’ Thompson said, “that Norwegian would leave as long as the 737 Max uncertainty continued.”
Norwegian wasn’t able to offset the loss of the 737s with other aircraft in its 164-plane fleet, primarily because of issues with the Rolls Royce engines in its Boeing 787s.
As a result, the airline resorted to wet leases — planes rented complete with certified pilots and crews — to cover some routes, including the one between Stewart and Dublin, Ireland.
Norwegian spokesman Anders Lindstrom said the carrier doesn’t disclose wet lease costs, but an industry expert estimated that the company was easily spending upwards of $100,000 a day for the Airbus A330 it has been using at Stewart — a cost that is compounded by the idling of its own employees. The Airbus lease expires this month.
Lindstrom said the “few thousand” travelers who had purchased tickets for flights between Stewart and Dublin through March 2020 have been offered rebookings or refunds. As of this week, most customers had been accommodated.