Aviation in the Baltics: airBaltic vs Nordica (Part I)
The situation of the airline industry in the three Baltic states, namely Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, is an interesting one. Growing passengers, routes and traffic numbers indicate that the population affords to travel more frequently and is ready to do so. However, as history/experience shows, the situation can take a 180-degree turn in an instant, as Small Planet Airlines closure has showcased.
Among all three Baltic states, there is one major carrier (I’m using the term “major” very loosely), two regional carriers and several charter airlines that offer ACMI, wet and dry lease services. In the article, we will look only at the first three.
At the moment, only Latvia and Estonia own (at least in part) scheduled passenger airlines that operate from these countries. While Lithuania had attempted to establish a regularly scheduled airline, both flyLAL and Air Lituanica came to an end in a spectacular and quite controversial fashion.
Profiles: airBaltic and Nordica
The Latvian government has had an up-and-down relationship with airBaltic. Initially sharing the ownership of the airline with SAS and several other investors, the country’s government became the majority stake owner after the start of the financial crisis of 2008, when SAS sold their shares in airBaltic. After a few years of huge losses, airBaltic finally turned things around and posted a net profit of €1 million for FY 2012.
Also, the Paris Air Show 2019 was full of excitement for airBaltic, as the airline was one of Airbus ambassadors at Le Bourget. airBaltic was sharing their experiences with the A220 – an aircraft due to become the backbone of the airline’s fleet. airBaltic is slowly phasing out its Boeing 737 and Dash-8 Q400 aircraft. Formerly known as CSeries, the 145 seat aircraft has allowed airBaltic to further reduce costs and, as a result, introduce routes that have less demand, yet still could be profitable with an A220, but a Boeing 737-500 would provide a loss.
In 2019 alone, airBaltic has added 5 A220‘s to the fleet, as the Latvian airline plans to add three more. The airline has ordered a total of 50 A220 aircraft from Airbus, and so far (as of May 2019) operates 19 of them.
Estonia’s flag carrier, Estonian Air, made its last landing on November 8, 2015. Less than 24 hours later, Nordic Aviation Group (NAG; now ‒ Nordica) began its flights. Formally, the new airline was not a legal successor of Estonian Air, although it operated similar routes. In fact, the main goal of NAG was to continue the routes operated by Estonian Air.
But the airline, currently owned by the Estonian government, is not even an airline. Nordic Aviation Group was a company that brings several airlines together to operate flights. The first flight from Tallinn to Amsterdam was sold using Adria Airways ticketing solutions and operated by the now-bankrupt FlyBMI. Overall, cooperation with other airlines is very prominent throughout the history of the airline. In 2016, Nordica signed an extensive partnership with LOT and the Estonian airline started using LOT’s ticket sales systems. In addition, LOT Polish Airlines took a 49% stake in Regional Jet, Nordica’s subsidiary, which also provides flights to Nordica, LOT Polish Airlines and SAS.
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