Sunday, June 14, 2009

airBaltic RIX Base: 2007 and 2009

While Q1 GDP in the Baltic’s is falling by 18% in Latvia and by 14% and 15% in Lithuania and Estonia respectively airBaltic in May sees a stunning 33% increase in passenger numbers at Riga base made by transfer passengers. What are the factors that make people transfer though RIX more and more?
Small Airport - Short Transfers
Riga airport is so tiny that getting from one gate to another takes no more than a few minutes and bit longer if passport control needed. For airBaltic that allows selling tickets with transfer time of 25 minutes - with makes total flight time comparable - in some city pairs - with direct service in  and allows more flights to be connected. Lost baggage numbers are not published so far. In future airport wants to keep transfer times in the same level but it may harder to manage if new terminals is added.
More Convenient Schedule Attracts Thousands
In comparison with year 2007 schedule is re-arranged to allow selling more connecting flights especially to and from Northern Europe.

In 2007 most flights could be divided within 4 groups (see visuals). Group 1 included Baltic and Scandinavian capital and limited number of cities in Western Europe. Group 2 included mostly eastern cities and few in Western Europe. Group 3 included all Nordic and Baltic destinations and key European destinations. Group 4 included just Baku, Tbilisi, Dublin and Saint Petersburg. Few low-frequency vacation destinations were operated out of these groups. This schedule allowed transfers between Western Europe, Scandinavia and the Baltic states to cities in the East (Kiev, Minsk, Tbilisi etc).

Things have changed much since 2007 although the same 4 flight groups are still live. Group 1 is almost the same as in 2007. Group 2 has experienced serious change. Now it consists mostly of West and South Europe destinations with high frequencies. Group 3 is the same just expanded. Group 4 gained low-capacity flights to Tallinn and Vilnius because of the very last arrival at destination and the very first departure. Group 5 is a newcomer. As it allows transfers with group 2 - booth in morning and evening - that's whay it has a big importance. Group 5 includes high capacity flights to Vilnius, Tallinn, Helsinki (B737-500 or -300 instead of F50) and other cities. If operated to close airports this group requires long night stops (as it is now) but I see big opportunities for group 5 to attract services to airports further in east. Now most of pax seems rotating trough groups 1-2-3 and 2-5. The original concept of transfers from the East to the West has become secondary. Flights to central Asia and Caucasus all are with night stop and can be connected at lest to flight group 2. Flights to Eastern Europe are split between all groups and have no common policy.
Punctuality Increase and Better On/Offboard Service
In summer 2008 airBaltic faced a decrease of 15-minute on-time performance down to 75% in August. In autumn situation gradually became better and reached record-high 94.2% on-time performance in May 2009. Furthermore some feeder operations in group 4 now backup group 5 in case of flights from group 2 being late.
In May airBaltic launched a business lounge at RIX (in reality – took over the only existing one) to attract more high-end passengers. And - even better - a portable entertainment system is for rent onboard flights longer than 3 hours.

Conections of Long-Haul Flights
Current flight group 5 allows operations for up to 15h whith -  together with 45min turnaround - allows to reach airports within 5700km - with is not enough to reach airports in the Fare East or in North America. For longer flights exist two options: 1st – to depart after group 2 arrives and arrive before groups 3 and 5 depart. This will work well if groups 3 and 5 are upgraded with second daily flights to West Europe destinations (MUC, CDG, AMS etc); 2nd option – departure after groups 1 and 5 arrive and return next day before group 2 depart. This requires upgrades of groups 1 and - again - 5. As group 3 is currently more developed than group 1 - first option is more reasonable. Booth options gives range of 8500km with is enough to reach all Asian cities (except Singapore) and US East coast cities.
If in an economic slump we see such increase in BT RIX traffic than what to expect at upturn? BTW - rumors are going that Warsaw and Pskov will be next destinations announced.

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