Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS) partnered with the Latvian government and various funds from Denmark and Sweden and established the airline, then known as Air Baltic on October 1, 1995. The airline’s first livery was an all-white fuselage with the blue airBaltic logo, spiced up with a blue checkered-style tail. Its first flight departed from Riga Airport (RIX) to Stockholm Arlanda Airport (ARN).

[ airBaltic]

The company, slowly but surely, grew in size. The late-1990s and early-2000s brought significant changes to its fleet. In 1996, the Riga-based carrier took delivery of its first jet, namely the AVRO RJ70. airBaltic phased out the Saab 340 in 1999, replacing it with the Fokker F50 – it received its first Dutch-built turboprop in 1998. The last F50 exited airBaltic's fleet in April 2014.

Pictured: an airBaltic Fokker F50 departing Vilnius Airport (VNO) in 2014.

[ Karolis Kavolelis / Shutterstock.com]

Pictured: airBaltic AVRO RJ70 at Copenhagen Airport (CPH), Denmark.

[ airBaltic]

Corporate changes were happening as well. The airline introduced new uniforms in 2000. A year later, it managed to achieve its first profit. Albeit small, as it was only LVL56,000 ($88,000), it was a significant step for the then-six-year-old airline. SAS was a firm believer in the airline – in October of the same year, it purchased Danish and Swedish funds’ stakes and now held 47.6% of airBaltic shares.

The Latvian airline finished 2001 with six aircraft and eight daily departures. In addition, it carried its one-millionth passenger.

Pictured: airBaltic flight attendant uniforms in 2001

[ airBaltic]

In November 2003, airBaltic’s first Boeing 737 arrived. The jet became a staple in the airline’s fleet for the next 13 years, until the first Bombardier CSeries aircraft, now known as the Airbus A220, arrived in 2016.

Latvia's geopolitical moves, namely to join the European Union in 2004, quickly bore fruit. airBaltic was free to zoom around Europe due to the Open Skies policy and in Summer 2004, operated 27 destinations from Riga Airport (RIX) and 11 routes from Vilnius Airport (VNO).

Pictured: airBaltic's first Boeing 737 aircraft

[ airBaltic]

In October 2004, it introduced a new livery – the white fuselage was kept, but the blue was replaced by a lime-green tail.

Pictured: airBaltic new livery on the Boeing 737

[ Bjoern Wylezich / Shutterstock.com]

The following four years were fairly uneventful for the airline. Success had followed and airBaltic kept adding aircraft to its fleet. In 2007, the airline started operating Boeing 737 simulators in its training center. A year later, it added its first of two Boeing 757s and had 26 aircraft in its fleet by the end of the year.. airBaltic started to further increase its presence in the Baltic States, as the company opened a representative office in Tallinn, Estonia.

Pictured: airBaltic Boeing 757 parked at Riga Airport (RIX)

[ airBaltic]

The financial crisis of 2008 hit the airline and the Latvian government hard. The latter purchased SAS shares and airBaltic became an almost wholly state-owned company in 2009. The first of the Baltic competitors fell when Lithuania’s FlyLAL declared bankruptcy in January 2009. In addition to the crisis, a bloody capacity war between airBaltic and FlyLAL resulted in the capitalization of the Lithuanian airline. The doors for airBaltic to become the de facto Baltic States‘ flag carrier were almost opened.

In 2010, airBaltic began operating its first De Havilland Canada Dash 8 Q400 turboprops.

[ Limare / Shutterstock.com]

The Latvian government had to step in once again, as airBaltic lingered on the brink of collapse. In 2011, the government increased its shareholding to 99.8%, injected LVL57.6 million ($11 million) and appointed the current chief executive officer (CEO) Martin Gauss.

Oh, and it was the first airline in the world to sell cars onboard its aircraft.

[ Austris Antons / Shutterstock.com]

2012 was seemingly a very important year for airBaltic. It announced its turnaround plan in order to return to profitability and ordered 20 new Bombardier CSeries aircraft, now known as the A220. The turnaround plan surprised the airline's own executives – already by 2013, the company turned 2012 loss into a small €1 million ($1.1 million) profit.

Pictured: a Bombardier CSeries 300 aircraft parked at Riga Airport (RIX).

[ Anton Gvozdikov / Shutterstock.com]

The second domino fell when Estonia's Estonian Air closed its doors in November 2015. However, the Estonian government was not keen to give up and established Nordica the day after Estonian Air closed its doors. Success the plan was not, and in June 2019, Nordica stopped providing scheduled services from Tallinn. The doors were now fully opened for airBaltic to become the de facto Baltic States’ flag carrier.

In the same year, airBaltic welcomed the first Bombardier CSeries 300 aircraft into its fleet. The company remained profitable until 2019 when it posted a net loss of €7.7 million ($8.9 million).

[ Limare / Shutterstock.com]

To further cement its position as the Baltic States' flag carrier it released three specifically designed liveries on its Airbus A220 aircraft, starting with the Latvian flag on YL-CSL...


[ Karlis Dambrans / Shutterstock.com]

...the Estonian flag on YL-CSJ...

[ Renatas Repcinskas / Shutterstock.com]

...and the Lithuanian flag on YL-CSK.

[ Askolds Berovskis / Shutterstock.com]