Bernie Baldwin

As a well-known phrase puts it, “never let a good crisis go to waste”.

The sentiment has certainly been taken up by airBaltic as the suspension of services between March and May hit the carrier.

The airline’s CEO, Martin Gauss, acknowledges that between 17 March and 18 May, international passenger traffic was not allowed in Latvia. “The airline only performed a small number of special repatriation and cargo flights. Since then, we have gradually resumed operations and we are now operating flights to more than 10 destinations from Riga in addition to various direct services also from Tallinn and Vilnius,” he confirms.

The lockdown, however, gave the airline an chance to reconsider its business plan and changes were made, particularly in the composition of the fleet. Gauss picks up the story of how the crisis wasn’t wasted.

“On 23 April, the airBaltic Supervisory Board approved a new business plan presented by the management team. The new business plan, Destination 2025 CLEAN, focuses on the impact of the Coronavirus crisis and adjustments that had to be made to the existing five-year strategy,” he explains.

“The new plan foresees a reduced fleet for the upcoming years, so we are initially resuming operations with 22 Airbus A220-300 aircraft,” the CEO continues. “The new plan takes into account reduced capacity for 2020 and 2021, while at the same time foreseeing a return to growth with up to 50 A220-300s by the end of 2023.”

Even before the crisis, airBaltic had planned to move to this single type fleet, getting rid of its De Havilland Canada Q400 turboprops and Boeing 737s. Thus the disruptions enabled the airline to bring the plan forward, so it benefits from the efficiency of the A220 as well as the single type fleet. The aircraft’s value has been shown with routes such as Riga–Abu Dhabi now in the network.

As it rebuilds that network, airBaltic currently plans to operate flights to more than 55 destinations by the end of the year. Many, but not all, of these will be well established key routes.

“Today we’re focusing primarily on resuming flights to major European business hubs as well as major airport hubs to provide the best connectivity to and from the Baltic region,” says Gauss. “The airline works in close cooperation with local institutions and resumes flights only to destinations where it is possible to fly.

“Still, we continuously evaluate the possibility of launching new routes. In May, for example, we launched a new direct route from Vilnius to Oslo, which we did not serve before the crisis,” adds Gauss. Another example, it seems, of not wasting a crisis.