Budget carrier Norwegian Air on Friday completed the first of a dozen new trans-Atlantic routes that could mark the beginning of a new era of discount air travel between the USA and Europe.

Norwegian Air Flight 1601 took off late Thursday from the Stewart International Airport near Newburgh, N.Y., and arrived to Edinburgh, Scotland, early Friday. The route kicks off a raft of new Boeing 737 routes that the fast-growing low-cost airline will begin flying this year from smaller airports in the Northeast U.S.

Two additional smaller airports will be added to the mix this weekend as Norwegian begins European nonstops from both Providence, R.I., and Hartford, Conn. By fall, Norwegian will be flying 12 trans-Atlantic routes from those three U.S. airports to multiple destinations in Ireland, Northern Ireland, Norway and Scotland.

Norwegian’s fares on the routes have dipped as low as $65 one-way, and one-way fares of $99 remain available on certain days during the summer and fall.

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The new service will be flown with Boeing 737 aircraft, a plane that – until now – airlines have used only sparingly for flights across the Atlantic.

But for Norwegian, the 737s are part of a key strategy to expand in the U.S. The carrier already has a fleet of larger Boeing 787 “Dreamliners,” a type of widebody jet that’s more commonly used by airlines for overseas flights. Norwegian has been expanding rapidly with those planes, too, adding dozens of new routes from big U.S. markets like New York JFK, Los Angeles and Oakland to European hot-spots like Paris, Barcelona and London.

However, it’s the 737s that will allow Norwegian to increase its U.S. footprint to include smaller cities. The single-aisle 737s are cheaper to operate than the larger widebodies. That, combined with their more-modest seating capacities, enables Norwegian to fly them from markets that would otherwise be too small to profitably support service on the much larger widebody jets.

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Norwegian’s 737s, for example, seat about 189 passengers while its Dreamliners have a capacity that ranges from 291 to 344.

With the 737, “you only need to fill 189 seats, much smaller than what you’d have to sell on traditional (widebody) aircraft,” Lars Sande, Norwegian’s SVP of Sales, said in a February interview with Today in the Sky.

Norwegian is banking that Boeing’s new 737 MAX variant will be a game-changer in making such “thin” markets work. The new MAX jets are more fuel-efficient and offer better flexibility for longer flights than do current-generation models of the 737.

Norwegian hopes to exploit those aircraft improvements to make its new trans-Atlantic service fly at a profit from Newburgh, Hartford and Providence. All three airports sit in the populous Northeast corridor and have a “catchment area” that extends into the greater New York City and Boston metro areas.

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The airline’s dozen European routes from those markets “wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t get the 737” to fly them, Sande added.

In particular, Newburgh and Providence are being targeted as alternative airports for New York and Boston, respectively. Each are about 70 miles away from the main downtown areas of those cities, and Norwegian is setting up bases for its 737 MAX jet in both places.

Despite the promise of the 737 MAX, Norwegian has had to launch its first routes from Newburgh, Hartford and Providence with the current-generation 737-800 variant. That “equipment swap” – the result of a later-than-expected MAX delivery from Boeing – is forcing Norwegian to fly the 737-800 at less than its full capacity on the trans-Atlantic routes.

The first 737 MAX is expected to be delivered to Norwegian later this month and the carrier could begin flying those aircraft on the new Northeast routes by late summer.

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Despite the delay, Norwegian is off to a fast start flying from small U.S. airports that have historically had a hard time landing high-profile overseas flights.

“Four years ago, Norwegian’s low-cost long-haul flights revolutionized transatlantic travel, and we are pleased to pave the way once more with our long-anticipated service from three new U.S. cities – Newburgh, Providence and Hartford – to Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland and Norway,” Thomas Ramdahl, Norwegian’s chief commercial officer, said in a statement commemorating the launch of service from Newburgh. “We are fully committed to our promise to bring American travelers more affordable fares and to create even more American jobs.”

By late summer, Norwegian will be flying the following non-stop routes from Newburgh, Providence and Hartford:

Newburgh, N.Y.

Belfast, Northern Ireland; Bergen, Norway; Dublin, Ireland; Edinburgh, Scotland; and Shannon, Ireland.

Hartford, Conn.

Edinburgh, Scotland

Providence

Belfast, Northern Ireland; Bergen, Norway; Cork, Ireland; Dublin, Ireland; Edinburgh, Scotland; and Shannon, Ireland. Also Guadeloupe and Martinique in the French Caribbean.

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