THE NEW LATVIAN flag carrier, Air Baltic, started operations on 1 October, coinciding with the withdrawal of all scheduled-service licences from the Government-owned Latavio.

Air Baltic, a joint-venture between the Latvian Government, Baltic International USA, Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS) and Swedish and Danish investment funds (Flight International, 6-12 September), began flying with a service from Riga to London.

Latavio had been controlled mainly by Russian personnel, and for some time there had been conflict between the authorities and the carrier. The Latvian transport ministry has decided to retain a curtailed Latavio for charter operations, mainly for social reasons, to maintain some employment.

Arnis Muiznieks, director of the civil-aviation department of the Latvian transport ministry, says that the heavily indebted Latavio will be restructured, with four aircraft, probably a mix of Tupolev Tu-134As and Tu-154Bs.

Staffing levels will be reduced, from 550 to around 100. Ownership will be divided between the Government (75%) and Baltic International USA (25%).

Most international services to destinations such as Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Helsinki and Stockholm have been transferred to Air Baltic, formed around Baltic International and its fleet of two Boeing 727-100s and two Tupolev Tu-134Bs. The Russian aircraft will be replaced within the near future, possibly by SAS McDonnell Douglas DC-9-21s.

Scheduled licences are also held by Riga Airlines and Transeast Airlines, but the only competition faced by Air Baltic is on the Riga-London route, where Riga Airlines flies a leased Boeing 737-200, linking with Transaero Airlines' Moscow-Riga service.

Riga Airlines president Maris Karkluis accepts that the market is too small for fully blown competition, and says that the way forward for his airline is in co-operating with the new national airline.


Source: Flight International