Martin Gauss, Chief Executive Officer, Air Baltic, poses for the picture at Kempinsky Mall of the Emirates, Dubai. Reporter: Sarah Gamal/ Gulf News Photo: Ahmed Ramzan/ Gulf News Image Credit:

Dubai: AirBaltic, the Latvian airline based in Riga, is planning to grow its operations in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region after announcing last week it will launch a direct service between the Latvian capital and Abu Dhabi.

Martin Gauss, chief executive officer of airBaltic, said the airline is aiming to expand frequencies to Abu Dhabi as well as possibly expanding its flights to other hubs in the GCC, citing strong demand in Baltic countries (Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania) to fly to the region.

“We’re starting with four flights a week, but we want to see the development and then we will increase the frequency to a daily service. There is a market and we see this for the passengers travelling via different points to Abu Dhabi and to the Baltics,” he told Gulf News in an interview.

AirBaltic will launch the Riga — Abu Dhabi route starting October 29, with Etihad Airways serving as its code-share partner on the route. The airline will use long-range Bombardier CS300 aircraft on the route, an aircraft Gauss described as being more environmentally friendly and cost-efficient than other aircraft as it burns 20 per cent less fuel.

Business plan

By 2021, airBaltic is aiming to grow its fleet of Bombardier CS300 to 20, and to have a total fleet of 34 aircraft. The CEO said the growth in fleet will help the airline achieve its targets of increasing passenger numbers by 15 per cent in 2017, and by 10 per cent in 2018.

Discussing outlook, Gauss said, “We have a five-year business plan, and we will stay within our profit expectations there. One of the targets is leading the airline in 2021 to revenues of above €450 million (Dh1.7 billion), and another is leading the airline to four million passengers by that time. To reach that, we have to grow [passenger numbers] by 15 per cent this year. In the first two months of this year, we were able to do that, so we’re a little bit ahead of track, but it’s just two months.”

Gauss added that the airline was ready to adjust as necessary to reach its targets, given political and economic uncertainties in 2017.

“Our expansion now is in all directions in Europe … and we will adjust if there is an effect. But we are not affected by a Brexit, or by elections in one country because we are serving 29 countries. If there’s no major economic crisis coming, if we’re just talking about local issues, then it will not affect our business,” he said.

Positive effect

Asked specifically whether the UK decision to leave the European Union would impact airBaltic, Gauss said, “There might be an impact, I’m sure, but we need to compensate by adjusting frequency and adjusting capacity. For example, you might have an effect on a route to London but you might also have a positive effect with a route to Abu Dhabi.”

In 2017, the airline is planning to further diversify its route mix, with the addition of 12 new direct destinations from its Riga base including Geneva and Catania.

AirBaltic is expected to release its financial results for 2016 next week, but Gauss said the airline was able to gain markets share in the Baltics during the year, and financial performance was “in line with expectations”.