ANALYSIS: Baltia bids to make most of transatlantic capacity cuts

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Story updated on 2 July to clarify that Kalitta Air is conducting the 747's C-check, but is not training Baltia's maintenance personnel.

US start-up carrier Baltia Air Lines is one step closer to certification by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), with the airline announcing today that its dispatchers have completed required ground schooling.

More hurdles remain, but the airline says that it is now making notable progress in its plan to bring high-service back to underserved transatlantic air routes.

“We are looking to be the leading transatlantic carrier to European cities [that are] underserved by nonstop service,” Barry Clare, Baltia’s vice-president of finance, tells Flightglobal.

“We feel we are going to be profitable from day one,” adds Clare. “The product will be superior at competitive prices.”

Baltia’s plan initially rests on the wings of one Boeing 747-200, which the company now expects to begin flying between New York JFK International airport and St. Petersburg, Russia, in October or November.

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Baltia Air Lines

That Pratt & Whitney JT9D-powered aircraft, which Boeing delivered new to Northwest Airlines in 1979, now has 103,117h and 18,171 cycles, according to Flightglobal’s Ascend Fleets database.

Clare notes the type has dispatch reliability of 98% and the ability to carry 80,000lb (36,287kg) of cargo on the eastbound route to St. Petersburg, and 60,000lb on the return leg.

But Baltia, which is incorporated in New York but has headquarters at the Willow Run airport in Ypsilanti, Michigan, must first be certificated by the FAA, a process the airline began in 2009.

Clare says the process has been delayed because new FAA requirements have made the process expensive and time-consuming. He notes that new so-called "safety attribute inspections" require some 4,000 to 5,000 questions be answered in the airline's manuals.

But progress is “moving rapidly” now, Clare says. Dispatchers just finished classroom training, pilots have completed ground training and flight attendant training is ongoing.

Meanwhile, Kalitta Air is performing a heavy five-year C-check on the company's 747 before it receives an airworthiness certificate.

Company officials previously told Flightglobal that proving flights could start as early as July.

But Clare says that Baltia now hopes have proving flights in September, and to receive FAA certification in September or early October.

Though FAA certification will allow Baltia to immediately begin charter flights, scheduled flights will be delayed 30 to 45 days while Russia’s aviation authority processes the paperwork.

That could push the first scheduled flight to November, Clare says.

PLANNING FOR EXPANSION

Baltia chose St. Petersburg as its first destination partly due to passenger demand and partly because the city is a Russian cargo hub and has no direct service from New York.

No airline has flown between New York and St. Petersburg since at least 2005, according to date provider Capstats.

In the next two years, Clare says Baltia expects to acquire four additional aircraft and launch service to other underserved cities from JFK.

Those could include places like Budapest, Prague and Athens, he says.

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Flightglobal/Innovata

Traffic on those routes has declined in recent years, according to Flightglobal/Innovata data.

No carriers currently fly from New York JFK to Budapest, although both American Airlines and Delta Air Lines flew the route from JFK as recent as 2011.

Delta is the only carrier flying from New York JFK to both Athens and Prague.

But Delta will have only 47,540 seats on the JFK-Athens route in 2014, down 78% since 2008, when Hellenic Imperial Airways and Continental Airlines also served Athens from New York.

Likewise, Delta’s capacity from JFK to Prague will be roughly 27,000 seats in 2014, down 73% since 2005, when CSA Czech Airlines flew to Prague from both JFK and Newark Liberty International airport, according to Flightglobal/Innovata.

PREMIUM PRODUCT

Clare says Baltia plans to bring “grand style” back to the transatlantic skies.

Amenties like pillows, blankets, extra legroom and checked luggage will be provided free, as will three-course meals in all cabins, he says.

The first 747 will have a business and coach cabin, with legroom in coach being 38in, says Clare. He added that additional aircraft will also have a first class cabin.

“We want the air travel [experience] to be part of your vacation or business trip. Not just a bus ride,” he says.