Norwegian’s co-founder Bjorn Kjos has stepped down as CEO after 17 years in charge of the low-cost carrier.

The carrier’s CFO Geir Karlsen will act as interim CEO, while chairman Niels Smedegaard “will take on a more active role in the management”.

Kjos – who was one of the founders of Norwegian Air Shuttle back in 2002 – will remain at the group as an advisor to the chairman.

The airline has grown from a small domestic operator with just four aircraft and 130 employees, to a global carrier with 162 aircraft and 11,000 employees.

But it has struggled to match its route growth with profitability, and this year has been hit by the grounding of its fleet of 18 B737 Max aircraft, which has forced it to lease aircraft to cover routes.

The carrier today announced a net profit for the second quarter of NOK 82.8 million (£7.7 million), and said that “Despite the reduced production growth and grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, the underlying operating result before ownership costs more than doubled from the same quarter in 2018”.

Commenting on the management changes Smedegaard said:

“I am very pleased Bjorn will remain at the company as an advisor to the Board and the Chair. As Norwegian moves from growth to profitability, it will be an advantage for the company to benefit from Bjørn’s extensive network, in-depth knowledge of and experience with global aviation. We have already started the process of recruiting a permanent new CEO.”

“I am confident that the Board of Directors will find the best qualified successor to lead the next chapters of the Norwegian story together with the top management team. Leaving the exciting future tasks to a new CEO and taking on a new challenge as an advisor, is a set-up I am very happy with. I look forward to spending more time working on specific strategic projects that are crucial to the future success of Norwegian.”

“Bjorn has played an unprecedented role in Norwegian’s success. His vision of offering affordable fares for all, combined with his enthusiasm and innovating spirit, has revolutionized the way people travel for pleasure and for business, not least between the continents. Bjorn is definitely one of the most influential European entrepreneurs of our time.”

“We have to ensure that Norwegian is well prepared and positioned to handle volatile markets and unexpected events. It is crucial that we continue to deliver on our cost reduction initiatives and that we constantly ensure that we have a route portfolio that yields profit. It is also important that the new CEO develops an organization that embraces continued improvement and operational excellence.”