airBaltic wins EC aid approval, plots 82 routes for 2021


airBaltic (BT, Riga) plans to operate 82 routes in summer 2021, representing a 21% increase on this summer, it announced in a statement on July 8. The news came less than a week after the European Commission approved, under EU state aid rules, the Latvian government’s investment of EUR250 million euros (USD282 million) into the company’s equity.

The Latvian flag carrier announced its summer 2021 network together with 15 seasonal destinations from Riga that were postponed this year because of the Covid-19 outbreak.

New among these are Bergen (2x weekly from March 30, 2021), Ekaterinburg (2x weekly from March 31), Manchester Int’l (4x weekly from June 2), Stavanger (2x weekly from April 27), Trondheim (2x weekly from June 1), and Yerevan (2x weekly from May 2).

The rest among the 15 are Aberdeen Dyce (2x weekly from March 30), Almaty (3x weekly from March 28), Baku (2x weekly from April 28), Kazan Int’l (2x weekly from May 3), Olbia (1x weekly from May 22), Palma de Mallorca (1-2x weekly from May 2), Rhodes (1x weekly from April 24), Thessaloniki (2x weekly from May 11), and Venice Marco Polo (2x weekly from May 1).

airBaltic also pledged to increase frequencies on “several popular destinations” for summer 2021 including Barcelona El Prat, Dublin Int’l, Paris CDG, and Rome Fiumicino.

By the end of August 2020, the carrier aims to connect Riga, Tallinn Lennart Meri, and Vilnius on 69 routes but cautioned that it is in close cooperation with the Baltic countries’ authorities to monitor the situation and “is flexible to adjust the flight schedule if needed.”

As airBaltic’s main shareholder, the Latvian government approved a plan on May 7 to invest up to EUR250 million in the company’s share capital. After the recapitalisation, to be carried out in July, the shareholding of the state will rise to more than 96%.

The business plan envisages a fleet of fifty A220-300s by the end of 2023, which CEO Martin Gauss claimed “means that the number of employees will exceed 2,000.” An additional 30 options for the aircraft type “remain for future growth.”

On July 3, the European Commission approved the measure to recapitalise airBaltic in the context of the coronavirus outbreak.

“airBaltic plays a key role for the Latvian economy. It contributes to foreign trade and to ensuring Latvia’s domestic and international connectivity. The crisis has hit this airline, as many other companies in the aviation sector, particularly hard,” Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s competition commissioner, said in a statement.

“The measure ensures that the state is sufficiently remunerated for the risk taxpayers assume and that the support comes with strings attached, including a dividend ban as well as further measures to limit distortions of competition,” she added.

The European Commission statement continued: “In the second quarter of 2020, airBaltic suffered substantial losses due to the coronavirus outbreak […]. As a result, airBaltic is currently facing an acute risk of default and insolvency.”