Estonian Air, now managed by Denmark's Maersk Air following 1996's privatisation, is forecasting proÌts by 1999 on the back of a steady increase in passenger traffic, helped by its new Western-built aircraft ßeet and the development of regional routes from the Estonian capital, Tallinn.

Borge Thornbech, who was seconded by Maersk to take the helm at Estonian after the Danish company took a 49%stake and management control in the carrier in September, says that the first quarter returns are already in line with the budget target of making a profit by 1999.

He expects passenger numbers to rise by one-quarter, to 216,000 in 1997, while sales are forecast to jump by nearly 40%to EEK509 million ($37 million).

Backing the increase is the fleet renewal which has seen Estonian phase out its 13 Tupolev Tu-134As, four Yakovlev Yak-40s and 12 Antonov An-2s inherited from Aeroflot. These have been replaced with two Boeing 737-500s, leased from International Lease Finance, and two Fokker 50s from Maersk.

Thornbech says that the airline is carrying more passengers with the four new aircraft than it did with the Russian fleet.

The airline's near-term objectives are to sign codeshare agreements with KLM and British Airways for flights between Tallinn and Amsterdam and London Gatwick, to add to an existing codeshare deal with Finnair. The KLM deal could be in place by the third-quarter, says the airline.

Looking at long-term prospects, Thornbech says that replacing the Fokker 50s with regional jets will be considered, with the aim of opening up longer routes into Europe and the CIS which would not generate enough traffic to support 737s.

The Baltic Cresco Investment Group owns 17% of the airline, while the Estonian Government retains a 34% stake.

Source: Flight International