AirBaltic and Ryanair carve up Latvian market

Map: Latvia

Since joining the EU in May 2004, Latvia has benefited considerably from a huge increase in inbound tourists. Traffic at the country’s main airport at Riga has more than quadrupled from just over 700,000 passengers in 2003 to nearly 3.2 million in 2007.

Chart: Riga airport traffic 1995-2007
Source: Riga Airport
Image: Riga’s terminal extension
Riga’s LVL5.7m ($12.5m) terminal extension is scheduled to be complete in 2010.

Passenger numbers grew by over 800,000 in 2005 and over 600,000 in each of 2006 and 2007. However, growth in percentage terms fell from 33% in 2006 to 27% in 2007.

Chart: Riga airport seasonality
Source: Riga Airport
Image: Latvian resident Gita Neilande became Riga International’s three millionth passenger
Latvian resident Gita Neilande became Riga International’s three millionth passenger of 2007 in December – the first time the airport has reached that milestone. She received a set of suitcases and a LVL300 ($650) Riga International Airport gift token to buy a ticket to any destination from Riga.

Monthly traffic figures reveal that demand follows a typical northern European profile with a peak in August when leisure demand is at its highest, and a dip in January and February.

Ryanair challenges AirBaltic for Latvian supremacy

Despite not having any aircraft based there, Ryanair has managed to grab 28% of traffic at Riga airport by operating services from its Bremen, Dublin, Frankfurt Hahn, Glasgow Prestwick, Liverpool, London Stansted and Stockholm Skavsta bases. There is also a daily service to Tampere in Finland and last November additional routes were started to Bristol, East Midlands and Shannon, while Milan Bergamo was added in January.

Image: Air Baltic routesAir Baltic though remains the country’s leading airline with 45% of the passengers in 2007 (1.42 million), almost double the number of passengers it handled at Riga in 2005 (769,107). The airline is 47.2% owned by SAS and 52.6% by the Latvian government and was formed in 1995. It has a significant presence at Vilnius in neighbouring Lithuania and carried over two million passengers in 2007 at an average load factor of 63%. Its fleet consists of a mix of 10 737-500s, three 737-300s and eight Fokker 50s.

This summer AirBaltic has announced plans to serve nine new destinations from Riga, including Venice, Nice, Ålesund, Billund, Sochi, Yerevan, Chisinau, Almaty, and Kuopio. All routes will be served either twice or three-times weekly. In 2007 it added 11 new destinations from Riga.

Chart: Top 10 airlines at RIX
Source: Riga Airport

Apart from AirBaltic and Ryanair a number of European legacy carriers serve Riga, including Aeroflot, Austrian, CSA, KLM, LOT, Lufthansa and SAS. Other LCCs operating to the airport include Aer Lingus (from Dublin), easyJet (from Berlin SXF) and Norwegian (from Oslo and Trondheim). From May, Germanwings will start thrice-weekly services to Cologne/Bonn, while the airport reports that easyJet plans to launch several new routes from the airport in 2008, though none have been confirmed as yet.

London is most popular route

According to the airport’s statistics, London is the most popular route with over 300,000 passengers in 2007. The UK has apparently forgiven Latvia for being hosts of the Eurovision Song Contest in 2003 when the UK, for the first time in its long and distinguished history, scored ‘nul points’ thanks to the rather tuneless effort of a duo called Jemini.

Top 15 destinations to/from Riga
Source: Riga Airport

The fastest growing new routes among the top 15 in 2007 were Milan (+48%), Berlin (+42%), Vienna (+32%) and Moscow (+31%). The most popular new routes started during 2007 were to Bremen (31,566 passengers), Rome (25,013), Trondheim (16,667) and Liepaja (14,480).

Terminal expansion planned

Image: Riga must comply with the terms of the Schengen Agreement
While Riga must comply with the terms of the Schengen Agreement by 30 March, provisions have been in place since 17 January.

To cope with the phenomenal growth at the airport an extension to the existing terminal is planned for completion in 2010 as well as a project to extend the runway to 3,200m and develop an onsite business park. One terminal development that has already been completed is to segregate passengers flying to and from Schengen and non-Schengen countries. There are also plans to develop three hotels close to the airport. One of these will be a 5-star Radisson SAS while another will apparently belong to Ryanair.

Liepaja airport developing

Apart from Riga, Latvia has one other airport with international services. Liepaja, in the west of the country, is currently developing its route network and apart from twice-daily flights to Riga, Air Baltic also offers direct services to Copenhagen and Hamburg.


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