Strike deal clears way for Norwegian Air's expansion plans
* Strike may have cost $61 million - analysts
* Dispute highlights Norway's competitiveness challenge
* Airline set to expand fast for years to come
By Stine Jacobsen and Balazs Koranyi
OSLO, March 11 (Reuters) - Norwegian Air's battle with striking pilots cost it millions of dollars - but it may view that as a price worth paying as it preserved a successful expansion strategy that defies Scandinavian labour doctrine.
Europe's third-biggest budget airline has grown rapidly over the past decade, with its fleet increasing more than eight-fold. Faced with a Norwegian labour landscape of high wages, generous benefits and powerful unions, it has instead based some of its crew and jets in cheaper countries like Spain and Thailand.
The 11-day strike that ended this week shone a spotlight on a growing competitiveness problem in Norway, with pilots seeking a collective agreement with the carrier's parent entity, saying they wanted to prevent the company replacing them with lower-cost workers from overseas.
Norwegian Air saw off the crisis with more modest concessions - creating subsidiaries that would give Scandinavian pilots job security for nearly three years, but no collective agreement with the parent company.
The deal, described by analysts as a victory for the firm, clears the way for it to push ahead with expansion plans, which are largely focused outside the Nordics. Its sights are not only set on Spain and Asia but also new destinations - and bases for crew and jets - in places like South Africa, Brazil or India. Continuación...