A new route from Riga to New York is in sight, says the CEO of the Latvian airline airBaltic, though initially through cooperation.
The three Baltic countries have more than six million inhabitants, but their biggest and most geographically central airport, in Riga, does not offer a single long-haul route in its schedules, which are dominated by the Latvian airline airBaltic.
The carrier does operate a seasonal route to Abu Dhabi with a flight time of approximately seven hours with its Airbus A220 aircraft. However, long-haul flights with larger aircraft have no direct access to Latvia, Estonia or Lithuania.
But its CEO Martin Gauss is on the case. He sees it as an obvious opportunity for budget airlines such as Norwegian or the Danish-Latvian Primera Air to establish long-distance routes from Riga.
airBaltic does not itself plan to operate long-haul routes, he maintains, but he wants to cooperate with other companies on these routes. According to the chief executive, New York is the most obvious destination to start.
“That route could work already today. I’m wondering why none of the low-cost airlines have opened it yet. We would deliver 50% of the passengers from day one,” he said, according to Air Transport World at the Aviation Festival in London yesterday.
He stressed that airBaltic did not have the right aircraft to fly long-haul routes. Today it has a fleet of Boeing 737, Bombardier Q400 and Airbus A220-300 aircraft.
But within the next three to four years it will phase out the 737s and Q400s so that from around 2022 it will have a fleet of only Airbus A220-300s, previously known as Bombardier CSeries aircraft.
However, Gauss does not rule out that airBaltic will at some point also enter the potentially lucrative long-distance market.
“We have a model ready where we know the aircraft type, we know exactly the numbers from Riga to four destinations, we know the passenger flows, we know the costs, we know the lead time,” he said.
“We know what it would mean. We looked at this calculation and said we don’t want to do it, so that’s the status today. If the numbers change, if we were to assume higher yields or different passenger numbers, we might change our opinion, but I don’t see that happening over the next year.”