Air Baltic plans to use its incoming aircraft in a variety of roles including some longer haul flying. The airline has firm plans to use the aircraft on the Riga-Abu Dhabi route where it has a codeshare agreement with , but is looking at other six hour or 2,500 nm range sectors, according to CEO Martin Gauss.
“The beauty about the CSeries cabin is its flexibility to install premium seats and the aircraft has great range,” Gauss told Aviation Week at the’s (IATA) annual general meeting in Doha, Qatar. Air Baltic is studying several cabin configuration options for the aircraft. The airline has opted for the 160-seat, double over wing exit version of the CS300. Its European lay-out will be at 148 seats, while a team within Air Baltic is looking at two different versions for the medium and long haul operation: One would see six lie-flat business class seats and 105 in economy. The airline is also considering a twelve seat lie-flat business cabin that would reduce economy capacity to 95 seats.
Other routes up to a 2,500 nm from its Riga base are under consideration in addition to Abu Dhabi. But given its code-sharing arrangement with Etihad, the airline would focus any network expansion on destinations in the North East or North of Central Asia.
Air Baltic has an order for ten CS300, the first of which is due to arrive by the end of 2015. Gauss says he is not too concerned about the recent engine failure on FTV-1, which Bombardier and Pratt & Whitney are investigating. “That’s no problem for us. These things happen during test programs,” he said. Air Baltic, like other future operators, has received an extensive briefing on the May 29 incident.
The airline is in the process of defining its future strategy as it nears CS300 operations and has moved from a period of losses to net profitability in 2013. Gauss expects the airline to remain in the black this year. A European Commission investigation into the restructuring package for the Latvian government owned airline is ongoing. The process has not been concluded, but Gauss is working on the assumption that it will be cleared.
The strategy review has not been concluded yet. But it includes options such as turning the airline into a more ambitious carrier that would target all of the Baltic countries as its home market. That scenario, including the launch of new regional routes, is seen as “likely”, Gauss said. The airline is also considering the idea of starting true long haul services to Asia and China in particular by leasing in.
Ultimately, the airline would need more investment from either the government or a private investor to fund expansion. It has taken a hit because of the crisis in Ukraine suspending flights to Sinferopol, Odessa and Kaliningrad, amongst others. To protect profitability, Air Baltic has cut capacity by 10% in the first quarter.