airBaltic, legally incorporated as AS Air Baltic Corporation, is the flag carrier of Latvia, with its head office on the grounds of Riga International Airport in Mārupe municipality near Riga. Its hub is at Riga International Airport with further bases at Tallinn Airport and Vilnius Airport.
The airline was established as Air Baltic on 28 August 1995 with the signing of a joint venture between Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) and the Latvian state. Operations started on 1 October 1995 with the arrival of the first Air Baltic aircraft, a Saab 340, at Riga, and that afternoon, the plane made the first passenger flight for Air Baltic.
In 1996, the airline’s first Avro RJ70 was delivered; and Air Baltic joined the SAS frequent flier club as a partner. 1997 saw the opening of a cargo department and, in 1998, the airline’s first Fokker 50 plane was delivered. The adopted livery was mainly white, with the name of the airline written in blue on the forward fuselage, the ‘B’ logo being heavily stylized in blue checks. The checker blue pattern was repeated on the aircraft tailfin.
In 1999, Air Baltic became a joint stock company; it was previously a limited liability company. All of their Saab 340s were replaced by Fokker 50s. By September, the airline had begun operating under the European Aviation Operating Standards, or JAR ops. Air Baltic welcomed the new millennium by introducing new uniforms and opening a cargo center at Riga’s airport.
The first Boeing 737–500 joined the fleet in 2003, and on 1 June 2004, Air Baltic launched services from the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, initially to five destinations. In October 2004, Air Baltic was rebranded as AirBaltic. Their present livery consists of an all-white fuselage and lime tailfin. AirBaltic.com is displayed on the forward upper fuselage, and the word “Baltic” is repeated in blue on the lower part of the tailfin. In December 2006, the first Boeing 737–300 joined the fleet and was configured with winglets. In July 2007, AirBaltic introduced an online check-in system. It was the first online check-in system in the Baltic states. In the spring of 2008, two long-haul Boeing 757sjoined the existing AirBaltic fleet. On 10 March 2008, it was announced that in the next three years the airline would acquire new aircraft, experiencing the largest fleet expansion in the company’s history. The new additions will be next generation Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 aircraft.
AirBaltic had strong links with SAS, which owned 47.2% of the airline, and operated frequent flights to SAS hubs in Copenhagen, Oslo and Stockholm, and the airline formerly used the SAS EuroBonus frequent flyer programme, but it now has its own frequent flyer programme called PINS. Some of AirBaltic’s products and services are still shared with SAS, including co-ordinated timetabling and shared airport lounges. AirBaltic is not a member of any airline alliance, but does have codeshare agreements in place with several Star Alliance member airlines and others.
AirBaltic had secondary hubs at Vilnius International Airport and Lennart Meri Tallinn Airport. The majority of the routes commenced from Tallinn were cancelled shortly after opening, leading to complaints from the Estonian Consumer Protection Department.
In January 2009, SAS sold its entire stake in the company (47.2% of the airline) to Baltijas aviācijas sistēmas Ltd (BAS) for 14 million lats. BAS was wholly owned by Bertolt Flick (President and CEO) until December 2010, when 50% of BAS shares were transferred to Taurus Asset Management Fund Limited, registered in the Bahamas.
Development since 2010
In August 2011, AirBaltic requested more than 60 million lats in capital as its losses continued to mount, and suffered speculation about its financial position and political scandals throughout 2011. In mid-September 2011, the company announced plans to lay off around half its employees and cancel around 700 flights a month to avoid possible grounding. The company also announced that a mystery investor was willing to pay 9.6 million euros for an additional 59,110 shares. On 4 October 2011, the plans were annulled in order to make the necessary investments in the airline’s capital. The government of Latvia and BAS agreed to invest around 100 million lats in the airline’s share capital in proportion to their stakes in AirBaltic. In connection with the agreement, Flick stepped down as long-term President and CEO of the airline. Martin Gauss, former CEO of Hungarian airline Malév, became the new CEO.
AirBaltic had made an announcement on 23 September 2010 that it would establish a new secondary hub at Oulu Airport, but in early 2012 it was confirmed that the Oulu hub plans had been cancelled due to AirBaltic’s financial problems.
The cost-cutting program, initiated by AirBaltic which aims to return to profitability in 2014, scored better than planned results in 2012, by narrowing its losses to €27.2 million, from €121.5 in 2011.
The state’s shareholding had been 99.8% since 30 November 2011, following the collapse of a bank linked with a finance package negotiated for the airline, but on 6 November 2015 it was reported that the Latvian Cabinet of Ministers had approved plans to sell 20% of airBaltic to German investor Ralf Dieter Montag-Girmes for €52 million and agreed to invest a further €80 million in the airline. The total of €132 million of fresh capital for the carrier is intended to spur its Horizon 2021 business plan and fleet modernisation. Following the closure of Air Lituanica and Estonian Air respectively in June and November 2015, it is alongside Nordica, one of two flag carriers in the Baltic countries.
The Bombardier CS300 delivery was much anticipated by airBaltic since this new aircraft type will replace most of the airline’s Boeing 737-300s and Boeing 737-500s. The delivery of the CS300 happened on November 29, 2016, at 2 am ET. On November 28, Bombardier and airBaltic held a ceremony in Mirabel, Quebec, Canada for the first delivery of the CS300. At 1:30 am, shortly before the scheduled departure, an oil leak from an engine was spotted. It delayed the departure, but at 2:23 am ET, the aircraft was now airBaltic’s property. On board the inaugural flight there were 18 people, including 6 pilots: 3 from Bombardier, and 3 from airBaltic. At 4:13 am ET, after a delay of over 2 hours, flight BT9801 took off en route to Stockholm. The airline received two CS300 in 2016 and expects to receive six in 2017, eight in 2018 and four more in 2020.
According to Reuters, AirBaltic is looking for opportunities to replace its Q400 turboprop fleet. Currently offers from Bombardier and Embraer are being viewed as possible future suppliers of new aircraft with possible deliveries of 14 aircraft, beginning from 2020.
On September 26, 2017, AirBaltic announced it would buy at least 14 additional C Series aircraft from Bombardier before the end of 2018. The airline plans to switch to an all-C Series fleet by the early 2020s. Additional orders by Air Baltic were announced by Bombardier on May 28, 2018. The order included 30 CS300 with options and purchase rights for a further 30 CS300. Airbus purchased a 50.01% majority stake in the CSeries program in October 2017, with the deal closing in July 2018. The family is subsequently also called the Airbus A220.
AirBaltic is a joint-stock company, with current shareholders (as of May 2016):
|State of the Republic of Latvia (represented by the Ministry of Transport)||80%|
|Aircraft Leasing 1 SIA (wholly owned by private investor Lars Thuesen)||20%|
The airline’s full accounts have not always been published regularly; figures disclosed by Air Baltic via various publications are shown below (for years ending 31 December):
|Net profit after tax (€m)||–||–||20||−52||−121||−27||1||9||19.5||1.2||4.6||5.4|
|Number of employees||919||–||–||1,443||–||1,100||–||–||902||1,201||1,388||1,507|
|Number of passengers (m)||2.0||2.6||2.8||3.2||3.3||3.1||2.9||2.6||2.6||2.9||3.5||4.1|
|Passenger load factor (%)||63||62||68||69||75||72||–||70||71||74||76||75|
|Number of aircraft (at year end)||21||28||31||35||34||28||25||24||24||25||30||34|
On most flights, airBaltic offers a buy on board menu offering food and drinks for purchase.
The original livery is painted on Avro RJ70s and has a white fuselage. The original airBaltic colour scheme blue and white is painted on the engines and the vertical stabilizer. The second generation livery also has a lime green wingtip and vertical stabilizer. However the logo was changed to airBaltic.com and the word airBaltic was painted on the engines, which was in its original metallic colour. The current livery consists of a white fuselage and a lime green vertical stabilizer, wingtip and engine. The logo stylized airBaltic was painted black on the fuselage covering the windows. This livery is mainly used on A220s.
airBaltic operates direct year-round and seasonal flights from Riga, Tallinn and Vilnius, mostly to metropolitan and leisure destinations within Europe. Long-haul flights are not operated.
airBaltic has codeshare agreements with the following airlines:
- Aegean Airlines
- Air France
- Air Malta
- Air Serbia
- Austrian Airlines
- Azerbaijan Airlines
- British Airways
- Brussels Airlines
- Czech Airlines
- Etihad Airways
- Georgian Airways
- LOT Polish Airlines
- Scandinavian Airlines
- TAP Air Portugal
- Ukraine International Airlines
- Uzbekistan Airways
As of July 2019, the airBaltic fleet consists of the following aircraft:
|Airbus A220-300||19||41||145||Launch Customer.|
YL-CSL painted in a special Latvia centenary livery
YL-CSJ painted in Estonian flag livery
YL-CSK painted in Lituanian flag livery
|Boeing 737-300||6||—||142 |
|To be phased out in autumn 2019 and replaced by Airbus A220-300|
|Bombardier Dash 8 Q400||12||—||76||To be phased out by 2022 and replaced by Airbus A220-300|
|Airbus A319-100||2013||2014||Leased from and operated by Czech Airlines for 3 months|
|Avro RJ70||1996||2005||Replaced by Boeing 737–500|
|British Aerospace 146-200||1995||1996||Leased for 3 months|
|Fokker 50||1998||2013||Replaced by Bombardier Q400|
|Saab 340||1995||1999||Replaced by Fokker 50|
|Founded||28 August 1995|
|Commenced operations||1 October 1995|
|Hubs||Riga International Airport|
|Parent company||Government of Latvia|
|Headquarters||Mārupe municipality, Latvia|
|Key people||Martin Gauss (CEO)|
|Revenue||€408.7 million (US$ 459.7 million) (2018)|
|Profit||€5.4 million (2018)|
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