INSIGHT: Traffic surge for expanding airBaltic

airBaltic intends to increase frequencies to Russia, which will host a FIFA World Cup in 2018 The carrier reports a 29% increase in passenger numbers from neighboring Lithuania and Estonia (airBaltic)

Riga, Latvia-based airline airBaltic reveals in a statement that it saw its passenger numbers from the two neighbouring Baltic states, Lithuania and Estonia, soar by 29 per cent in the first five months of this year.

The national carrier is primarily state-owned: Danish investor Lars Thuesen acquired a 20 per cent stake in April. airBaltic practices a hybrid low-fares business model.

The airline transported 146,116 travelers from Estonia to Latvia in January through May, the highest number since it began operating flights to that country’s capital city of Tallinn.

It appears that the decision taken back in 2008 to change the carrier’s operating model from that of a point-to-point operator to a network airline is now paying dividends.

In the first five months of this year, the airline transported 136,270 passengers from Lithuania’s capital city Vilnius across a network which now serves more than 60 destinations and spans Europe, Scandinavia, Russia, the CIS, and the Middle East.

The uptick in passenger traffic is a welcome boost for airBaltic, which saw its net profit drop more than 16-fold year-on-year in 2016 to 1.2 million euros and its yields decrease by 6% to 88.7 euros per passenger seat.

Commenting on the carrier’s rising passenger figures, Wolfgang Reuss, senior vice-president network management, explains: “We offer the best connectivity in and out of Estonia and Lithuania, as airBaltic serves a combination of direct flights and convenient transfers via our main hub in Riga to Europe, Scandinavia, the Middle East, and the CIS.”

airBaltic’s fleet currently comprises 25 aircraft: three Bombardier CS300s, five Boeing 737-500s, six Boeing 737-300s, and 12 Bombardier Q400Next Gen turboprops.

As part of its evolving strategy, the airline hopes to grow its CS300 fleet to 20 airframes over the next three years, as well as hiring approximately 200 additional personnel by 2018.

The expanding carrier also intends to capitalise on the expected traffic surge generated by the 2018 FIFA World Cup, by adding new services to host nation Russia.

The airline, which currently operates 24 flights per week between Moscow and Riga, flew 160,000 passengers between the two capitals in 2015. This figure grew by 31.3% to 210,000 in 2016.

This upwards trajectory in Riga-Moscow traffic is expected to rise by a further 9.5% to 230,000 passengers this year.

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