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Norwegian Air's first-quarter loss widens as airline prepares for reboot

Terje Solsvik and Victoria Klesty
FILE PHOTO: Norwegian Air Sweden Boeing 737-800 plane SE-RRJ approaches Riga International Airport in Riga

By Terje Solsvik and Victoria Klesty

OSLO (Reuters) - Norwegian Air <NWC.OL> posted a wider first-quarter loss as the coronavirus crisis froze global travel, it said on Thursday, days after completing a financial rescue in which creditors took control of the carrier.

The pioneer in low-fare transatlantic travel reported a January-March pretax loss of 3.28 billion Norwegian crowns (270.89 million pounds) versus a loss of 1.98 billion a year earlier.

In March it furloughed some 7,300 employees, or about 90% of its staff, and last month said subsidiaries in Denmark and Sweden had filed for bankruptcy.

"The company is currently in hibernation mode and at the same time is conducting significant restructuring of the organisation, including establishing a new strategy and updated business plans," the budget airline said in a statement.

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, Norwegian had set out a plan to regain annual profitability in 2020 after posting losses for three consecutive years, but instead found itself fighting to survive.

"Our goal is to ensure that Norwegian has a strong position in the future airline industry with a clear direction and strategy," CEO Jacob Schram said in a statement.

The airline has grounded most of its fleet and this month secured 3 billion Norwegian crowns in government loans after completing a 12.7 billion crowns debt conversion and share sale.

A preliminary recovery plan published in April calls for operating just seven aircraft for up to a year, followed by a gradual build-up to 110-120 aircraft in 2022, down from a current fleet of 147.

Rivals such as Lufthansa <LHAG.DE>, SAS <SAS.ST>, Ryanair <RYA.I> and easyJet <EZJ.L> in recent days have announced the reopening of some routes.

"As soon as the world returns to normalcy, we will be prepared to return with improved service to our customers," Schram said.

Nordic carrier SAS also reported it was conducting intensive talks with investors to secure its own future.

(Editing by Stephen Coates and Jason Neely)