Start-up Baltia eyes Q3 launch after milestone in certification process

Washington DC
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Start-up Baltia Airlines has moved past the initial phase of the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification process to become an approved air carrier and is now eyeing an August or September launch date for operations to St. Petersburg, Russia with a Boeing 747-200 aircraft.

The start-up, based at New York John F. Kennedy (JFK) airport, says the milestone is significant because it has completed what it considers the most time-consuming part of securing certification - passing the "gate one" application process for an air carrier approval, which includes approval of its manuals.

The airline has been working towards certification since 2009 but has encountered delays along the way. At one point it faced a delay after needing more time to submit its manuals, and a shortage of aviation inspectors at the FAA also lengthened the process.

After initially applying for a certificate in New York, the carrier eventually re-submitted its manuals at the FAA's East Michigan Flight Standards District Office. That office is now working with Baltia on the approval.

Baltia has seen tentative launch timelines for service come and go, but the airline's vice-president of marketing Anthony Koulouris says he is confident that the remaining three phases of the certification process will be straightforward now that the first part is done.

"I have never been more confident," says Koulouris. "Baltia Airlines has never gone this far before."

Remaining procedures that Baltia must undergo include crew training, several emergency tests and multiple proving flights.

The proving flights will likely occur over a two-week period, Koulouris says. The flights could start as soon as July if crew training starts within the next few weeks.

The airline is eyeing New York-Saint Petersburg for its inaugural route. No airline flies between the cities today, Innovata schedules show. The US Department of Transportation approved Baltia's launch of the route in March 2009.

The airline is also looking to start another service to Moscow within three to four months of initiating service. That route from JFK would have more competition from airlines already in the market, including Delta Air Lines, Aeroflot and Transaero.

Baltia intends to initiate service with one 34-year old 747-200 aircraft, originally operated by Northwest Airlines, Flightglobal's Ascend Online database shows. The aircraft's Pratt & Whitney JT9D engines are under power-by-the-hour lease agreements with Logistic Air.

Baltia plans to exclusively operate the 747 but will look at newer models such as the -400 for any additional purchases.

The airline has initially laid out the 747 in a three-class configuration with about 390 seats. Economy seats will have a 38in (965mm) pitch. Baltia wants to offer wi-fi throughout the cabin and use the upper level of the aircraft as a galley area for first class passengers.