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An airBaltic A220 painted with the Latvian flag to celebrate the nation’s centenary. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

airBaltic Plans to Accelerate A220 Deliveries

Latvia’s airBaltic has begun talks with Airbus to accelerate deliveries of Airbus A220 airplanes that the airline has on order. airBaltic currently has an order of 50 planes set to be delivered by 2025, but the delivery timeline could condense to just a couple of years.

At a time when major airlines around the world are cutting capacity and parking 80 to 90 percent of their fleets in response to COVID-19-induced diminished demand, airBaltic is leaning into the Coronavirus crisis in hopes that being prepared towards the end of the pandemic will help it gain market share. 

As other airlines may take weeks or even months to inspect aircraft for their return to service, re-train staff and return to normal operations as COVID-19 recesses, airBaltic hopes that it will be in a position to take advantage of passengers’ desire to travel quickly after being inside for months. Being the world’s sole all-A220 carrier, airBaltic’s access to smaller aircraft will also help it fly lower-demand routes or survive an unexpectedly gradual return to normal capacity since its operating costs will not be as high as airlines flying bigger aircraft partially empty.

“I always said that come the next crisis we wouldn’t be left with an aircraft that was too big,” airBaltic Chief Executive Martin Gauss told Bloomberg. “Would you rather have 145 seats like the A220 or 186 on a larger narrow-body? The answer is obvious.”

airBaltic’s standardized fleet will have additional advantages. The airline will not need to re-train crew on multiple aircraft but instead only need to focus on one model. This reduces costs for crews who may have lost recency since airBaltic will not need to pay for training on multiple fleets.

The airline has a further advantage because it has not had to park as many aircraft as other airlines relative to fleet size in a short period of time. The carrier had plans to retire aging Bombardier Dash 8 and Boeing 737 aircraft and had already removed them from service when Coronavirus began to spread, meaning that it did not have to find as much aircraft storage or move aircraft to said storage on short notice, reducing costs.

The carrier does have plans to take four A220s this year, but the exact delivery dates are unclear since Airbus’ Canadian production line, where A220s are produced, is closed. Gauss says that talks with Airbus will accelerate the general delivery timeline while delaying short-term deliveries in response to Coronavirus.

“We’re always in discussions with customers regarding their fleet, [but] those discussions are confidential,” an Airbus spokesman said.

airBaltic currently plans to return to regular services on May 14, a day after Latvia’s travel lockdown is set to end. However, that return date could be pushed back if Latvia decides to extend its shutdown.

The airline will serve 12 routes from Riga upon its return. The carrier hopes to be operating 60 routes by the end of the year, including services from secondary hubs in Tallinn, Estonia and Vilnius, Lithuania. This is down from 80 routes served by airBaltic’s original fleet, which included the 737s and Dash 8s.

Despite being unable to fly passenger services, airBaltic has been flying medical cargo flights with its A220s as the Coronavirus pandemic has spread. Though it is the only sole-A220 operator in the world, airBaltic has the third-largest A220 fleet with 22 aircraft.

John McDermott
John McDermott
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