UPDATE 5-Norwegian Air to end transatlantic flights, seeks state help
* Will focus on Nordic and European routes
* Says has resumed talks with government
* State says is considering whether to take a stake (Adds industry ministry comment)
OSLO, Jan 14 (Reuters) - Norwegian Air, which less than a decade ago challenged British Airways and other long-established rivals by launching transatlantic flights, said on Thursday it will end those services, with 2,000 job losses, and seek government help.
The budget airline, founded in 1993, has been forced to ground all but six of its 138 aircraft due to the pandemic and will now focus on Nordic and European routes.
"We have decided that long-haul is no longer in our business plan," Chief Executive Jacob Schram told an online news conference.
The plan also involves closing units in the United States, Italy, France and Britain, including its base at London Gatwick airport.
"The brutal reality is that (they) will be declared bankrupt ... 2,000 employees are affected," said Schram.
The airline aims to cut its fleet to about 50 aircraft before expanding to around 70 in 2022, it said.
The plan must be approved by an Irish bankruptcy court. The next hearing is on Jan. 22.
The company and the center-right minority government are now discussing possible state participation, both sides said.
"We are in the process of carefully considering the new business plan and Norwegian's request to us to participate in a restructured company," the industry ministry said in a statement to Reuters.
Norwegian's 35-strong long-haul fleet of Boeing Dreamliners - most of which are leased - is now up for negotiation, finance chief Geir Karlsen told Reuters.
"Overall, this seems like a sensible plan," said brokerage Davy. "The long-haul business was volatile and generally loss making since its launch in 2013 – in this environment, withdrawal is the only viable option."
Norwegian risks running out of cash by the end of March if it fails to restructure debt and liabilities of 66.8 billion crowns ($7.89 billion), including 48.5 billion in interest-bearing debt, it warned late last year.
It hopes to cut debt to around 20 billion crowns and raise 4-5 billion from new shares and hybrid capital.
The new plan aligns with "signals" from Norwegian politicians about what would be required for the state to provide further help, Schram told Reuters.
The plan could return Norwegian to profit before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) later this year, based on conservative assumptions, it said.
However, Bernstein analysts said the planned debt reduction was too small. "It is more likely in our view, that the current Norwegian will eventually have to be wound down, and any continuation of the business will need to be built anew."
($1 = 8.4686 Norwegian crowns) (Writing by Terje Solsvik and Gwladys Fouche; Editing by Jason Neely, Mark Potter and Jan Harvey)
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