Western European bases are being discussed if the Riga-based carrier continues in its A220 buying spree.
One of Europe’s fastest-growing carriers, airBaltic raised capacity by 18% in 2018 to 5.6 million seats and has a goal of reaching 15 million passengers by 2025.
Ahead of a keynote address at World Routes 2019 in Adelaide in late September, the airline’s chief executive Martin Gauss told Routes Online about the carrier’s plans to develop its network.
It has been quite a turnaround from a few years ago when, in Gauss’ words, the airline was in a “very bad position”. In 2015, it offered 3.8 million seats, down 40% from a peak in 2010, which it has only now surpassed.
Extensive restructuring has led to a huge revival in its fortunes, including the ongoing transition from B737s and Bombardier Dash-8 turboprops to an all-Airbus A220 fleet.
“We took a strategic decision to invest in an aircraft type, the Airbus A200-300, which is now seen as the superstar in its category. We had to decide between an A319neo and a 737-700 MAX and at that time the CS300,” said Gauss.
“The A319 and the 737 are heavier, while all aircraft have the same engine technology. So therefore just from a weight point of view, the A220 is the most efficient aircraft. On top of that it has a range which is unreached in the under 150-seater segment.”
airBaltic has built up to become a “profitable airline which is on a positive growth path”, reflected in an 18% rise in revenues to €408.7 million in 2018, with a €5.4 million profit. It aims to reach €1.5 billion in revenues by 2025.
The airline has 18 A220-300s in service and a further 32 on order. Gauss says that its heartland in the Baltics remains an immediate priority for growth.
“Our business plan calls for up to 50 A220s to be based here – expanding from Riga which stays a hub and spoke airport, but also Tallinn and Vilnius. We’re adding aircraft to these two bases.”
However, with a further additional 30 aircraft on option, Gauss revealed that another phase of growth might be further afield.
“If we exercise these options, we have identified other airports in Europe where we’re going to base the aircraft and fly the same concept, but it would not be in the Baltics,” he tells Routes. “It would be a point-to-point operation to other countries outside the Baltics.”
While the decision to use only A220s will give the airline significant efficiency gains, the seven-hour range means most Asian destinations will be impossible to reach, making Western Europe the logical choice for further expansion.