Aviation in the Baltics: Chartering the sky (Part II)
The situation with scheduled carriers is quite clear, as airBaltic remains the last frontier within the three states of the Baltics (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia) to fend off foreign low-cost carriers from completely dominating the market. But what about airlines that do not fly on a daily basis?
When we talk about airlines registered in these three countries, charter airlines absolutely dominate the charts. Out of 12 airlines that are registered in the Baltics, 10 of them offer various ACMI, wet or dry lease solutions for airlines or tour operators.
Non-scheduled traffic has grown significantly. For example, throughout Lithuania’s three airports (Vilnius (VNO), Kaunas (KUN), Palanga (PLQ)), non-scheduled passengers accounted for 11.5% of traffic in 2017. In 2018 the number rose to 14.1%, an increase of 261 006 passengers onboard chartered flights, according to the statistics provided by Lithuanian Airports.
Charter airlines enjoy partnerships with travel agents, as during the summer months, the passenger numbers increase significantly. For example, Vilnius Airport (VNO) served an average number of 325 830 passengers during Q1 of 2018. But during the summer of 2018, the airport saw an average of 480 801 passengers per month.
Anyhow, we can note two airlines that could spark interest – KlasJet and GetJet Airlines.
KlasJet operates seven VIP configured aircraft, five Boeing 737 and two Bombardier aircraft – a Challenger 850 and a CRJ200. KlasJet just recently added two 737. The unique part about these two aircraft is that the airline operates it with a flexible cabin configuration. LY-FLT is an all-business-class aircraft, with a cabin thats “transformable between 68 and 104 business class seats”. The second newest addition, LY-BGS, will operate an all-economy layout for the summer season but will switch into “a 68-seat business class cabin” after the summer.
Other, bigger charter airlines are SmartLynx (with two separate AOC in Latvia and Estonia) and Avion Express. Both airlines exclusively operate the Airbus A320 family, with 42 aircraft in total between the three airlines.
So, now that the introductions are out of the way, how was the first half of 2019 for charter airlines in the Baltics?
First things first, two charter airlines established subsidiaries in Malta. Both Avion Express and SmartLynx have expanded into Malta and acquired AOC’s in the small European island.
In the press release, the CEO of Avion Express has noted that “Malta is an FAA-approved country which gives us access to the US market and opens a lot of opportunities to strengthen our leading position as a global ACMI provider on narrow-bodies.”
The CEO of SmartLynx Airlines has stated pretty much the same reason – a Maltese AOC gives an airline the opportunity to work with clients based in the United States.
The grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX has provided numerous opportunities for ACMI operators, as airlines had to quickly replace the aircraft. Back in May of 2019, Avion Express has highlighted this fact when they announced that they’re partnering up with Norwegian and will provide the low-cost carrier with four Airbus A320 aircraft. Avion Express showcased 5% production growth in H1 2019 and a record aircraft in its fleet – overall, the airline operates 22 Airbus A320 in Summer 2019.
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