Max Kingsley-Jones/BILLUND

MAERSK AIR has set about ploughing its airline expertise into Estonian Air, following ratification of its agreement to take a 49% stake in the privatised Baltic carrier.

In May, the Danish airline, in partnership with investment consortium Baltic Creco, was chosen by the Estonian Government to take a 66% shareholding in its flag carrier (Flight International, 29 May-4 June, P18). The deal has now been ratified, and Maersk Air, which holds a 49% stake worth around EKr60 million ($5 million), is carrying out a major overview of the airline.

Borge Thornbech, the former managing director of Maersk Travel, has been appointed president at Estonian, and "experts" from each of Maersk Air's departments are performing an audit of the airline's entire operations. As well as examining all of Estonian's commercial contracts, Maersk is assisting its new partner with training, the revamp of its fleet, and the expansion of operations.

Maersk Air's, Senior vice-president commercial, Jorn Eriksen, says that many of Estonian's existing contracts were found to be in need of renegotiation. "They simply had no idea how much things like handling, meals or fuel should cost. Most of the contracts that need renegotiating are with Western companies," he says.

Estonian had already begun its fleet-renewal programme in 1995, with the introduction of two Boeing 737-500s leased from International Lease Finance, which have replaced Russian types such as the Tupolev Tu-134 and Yakovlev Yak-40. Estonian is in the process, of introducing two leased Fokker 50s, transferred from Maersk Air, which are replacing the Yak-40s on shorter routes. "The economics of the Yak were hard to justify - three pilots, three engines and just 26 passengers," says Eriksen. Estonian will operate its last flight with a Russian type on 26 October.

Maersk Air's assistance with Estonian's fleet renewal could result in more Fokker 50s and possibly Boeing 737s, being transferred as Maersk phases them out, according to Eriksen.

The policy has already been adopted by Maersk's UK division, which is replacing BAC One-Elevens with three older 737-500s.

Further off-shore tie-ups, will be considered by Maersk, says Eriksen. "We get some ten enquiries from airlines around the world every year regarding a link-up," he adds.

Source: Flight International