Europe is one of the most lucrative aviation markets in the world: while it is definitely not the most populous one, such segments as transatlantic flights have become cash cows for airlines. The Asia-Europe segment has also allowed comparatively smaller airlines like Finnair to establish itself firmly and find a niche where the airline could strive. At the same time, the lucrativeness of Europe’s main airports has created a problem – a problem of overcapacity.

Such cities and their main airports like Amsterdam Schiphol (AMS), Frankfurt Airport (FRA), London-Heathrow (LHR), Paris-Charles De Gaulle (CDG) are becoming very limited in welcoming new airlines or allowing current operators to expand their presence at the respective airports.

And, as airlines from other continents, especially Asia are looking to inaugurate flights to Europe, their choices become limited. For example, Juneyao Air, a Shanghai, China-based airline announced its plans to launch a service between Shanghai and Manchester Airport, United Kingdom (MAN) in November 2019. The flight, operated via Helsinki (HEL), is the carrier’s first service to the United Kingdom. Previously, in February 2019, it applied to launch flights from Shanghai Pudong (PVG) to one of London‘s airports. However, the route never materialized as the airline was denied the rights to do so.

Helsinki (HEL), the main hub of the aforementioned Finnair, is becoming the gateway for flights between Asia and Europe, and not only for the Finnish flag carrier. Several Asian airlines have opened their routes to HEL in over the past few years, including codeshare agreements with Finnair. The Helsinki-based carrier can provide competitive connection times from Helsinki to other European destinations, while Asia-based airlines, especially those that are new entrants into Europe, can offer their passengers a more seamless experience when flying to the continent.

However, while Helsinki has become the king of Asia-Europe traffic in Northern Europe, one airport is coming to take the throne: Riga International Airport (RIX).

Its main competition is, of course, Helsinki Airport: the airport, serving the Finnish capital, welcomed 21.8 million passengers in 2019, an increase of 4.9%. Riga, on the other hand, grew by 10.5% to 7.7 million. So, these are two emerging hubs in Northern Europe: both Arlanda Airport (ARN), serving Sweden’s capital Stockholm, and the Danish counterpart, Copenhagen (CPH), finished 2019 with decreased passenger numbers. Arlanda welcomed 25.6 million (-4%), while Copenhagen welcomed 30.2 million (-0.1%).

King of Baltics and the upcoming King of the Nordics?

Riga International Airport, serving the Latvian capital, is essentially the hub of the Baltic States. Out of the total 7.79 million passengers that landed or departed from the airport in 2019, 30% of those were transfer passengers. The top two transfer cities were Tallinn, Estonia, and Vilnius, Lithuania, respectively, the two other Baltic capitals.

But 2019, seemingly, was the defining year for RIX to work towards its next goal.

When discussing the airport’s performance throughout the year, the chairperson of the board, Ilona Līce, stated that the company’s figures for the year showcased “steady and undisputed leadership of Riga International Airport in the Baltics.”

“They also prove that the Baltic market is becoming too narrow for Riga International Airport and that the Airport has chosen the right direction for its development – to compete in a wider international arena, aiming to become an emerging aviation hub in Northern Europe,” added Līce.

Meanwhile, board member Artūrs Saveļjevs revealed exclusively to AeroTime that Riga aims to become a direct competitor to Helsinki and also offer Asian airlines an easy entrance to the European markets, combined with airBaltic and other carrier’s already established network to key hubs and cities in Europe: