DALLAS – Fast-growing and dynamic, Air Baltic (BT) has been catching the attention of many, not just in Europe but globally.
Until some years ago, you’d find the airline flying the classic series of the Boeing 737 and the Dash 8 but after a fleet clean-up, it’s now the world’s one and only airline to operate a sole fleet of the Airbus A220. The aircraft has allowed BT to fly longer and extend its network beyond continental Europe from its home base of Riga (RIX).
I recently got to exchange some questions with Air Baltic’s CEO, Mr. Martin Gauss, who also pilots the A220 now and then, on how the airline is working out its network given the loss of the Russian and Ukrainian markets.
On the sidelines for the near future, BT seems to be considering and looking into the Airbus A321XLR to cater to certain leisure destinations rather than rush into widebodies. Here’s the full interview.
SG : Summer demand seems phenomenal, although it’s amidst an all-European airport staff crisis, How much of your network is facing difficulties due to this (given Amsterdam is a crucial connection hub for you)?
MG : Due to eased Covid-19 restrictions worldwide, we see a noticeable overall increase in passenger demand. Among the most popular destinations are still various leisure ones, for example, in the Mediterranean region. However, we also see more and more travelers enjoying city breaks in major European capitals. Currently, airBaltic offers 100 routes from its home bases.
Over the last couple of weeks, we have noticed disruptions due to staff shortages and strikes in various European hubs. These disruptions have mainly caused delays in flight departure times as in cases where there are larger queues at the airport, we try to wait for the remaining flight passengers as long as we can.
If our passengers miss their flight due to staff shortage at the airport, we invite them to contact our Call Centre colleagues who will further assist and try to look for a suitable solution.
Do you feel a slight pinch about losing out on Moscow and St. Petersburg due to the Ukraine crisis? Any new routes to cover these?
Since the airspace closure, we have seen an impact of the canceled routes in Russia, especially in terms of the transfer passengers who used our home base in Riga as a transfer hub for further destinations within airBaltic’s network in Europe, CIS, and the Middle East.
To address the additional capacity caused by the canceled routes, airBaltic has made several network adjustments – both in terms of increased flight frequencies and launching new routes. In May, we launched direct flights between Riga and Batumi in Georgia, and in the winter 2022/2023 season, we will launch our first destination in Africa – Marrakesh in Morocco.
In simple terms, why has the A220 been the perfect fit for you? When do you plan to bring in the high-density 149-seater A220 as it’s been approved?
airBaltic is proud to operate a single-type fleet of currently the greenest commercial aircraft in the skies – Airbus A220-300s. The aircraft type has brought numerous benefits to us. Starting from increased comfort for our passengers and crew due to wider seats, larger hand luggage storage, and more to the aircraft type’s environmental performance, it offers an overall excellent flying experience. It was the right choice for airBaltic’s fleet renewal.
In late February of 2022, we received our first A220-300 which is certified to operate up to 149 seats. Until then, we could use 145 seats on the aircraft, however, going forward also existing fleet will be adjusted to use the additional capacity, which will further drive the efficiency of our operations.
airBaltic plans to unblock the additional seats on its entire fleet by summer 2023.
Looking beyond the A220, you seem to be interested in the A321XLR. Care to comment?
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Featured image: Martin Gauss CEO Air Baltic. Photo: Air Baltic