airBaltic and flyLAL fight for supremacy in Lithuania; Ryanair dominates Kaunas

Image: flyLAL CEO Vytautas Kaikaris celebrated the first flyLAL flight at Vilnius airport in May this year
flyLAL CEO Vytautas Kaikaris celebrated the first Boeing 757-200 flyLAL flight at Vilnius airport in May this year. Both airBaltic and flyLAL are vying between them to dominate the Lithuanian market.

Logo: Vilnius International Airport & flyLalAlong with fellow former Soviet republics Estonia and Latvia, Lithuania became a member of the EU in May 2004. This helped stimulate air travel demand to and from the country which has a population of around 3.4 million and is roughly the size of Ireland. Its capital Vilnius is served by Vilnius International Airport (VNO) which handled just over 1.7 million passengers in 2007, an increase of 18% on the previous year. The national airline flyLAL Lithuanian Airlines is in an intense battle with airBaltic for market dominance with both carriers transporting around one-third of all passengers at the airport.

Chart: Vilnius airport traffic 1998-2007
Source: ICAO, Vilnius Airport

airBaltic and flyLAL have reduced head-to-head competition

Map: LithuaniaDuring this summer airBaltic operated some 155 weekly departures to 20 destinations while flyLAL served 21 destinations with 113 weekly departures. The two carriers competed head-to-head on several routes including Barcelona, Brussels, Dublin, London Gatwick, Milan Malpensa, Paris CDG, Riga, Rome FCO, Stockholm Arlanda and Tallinn. Fortunately, for the current winter season an element of sanity seems to have prevailed and the two carriers are only going head-to-head on the London Gatwick route. airBaltic is now serving just nine destinations with 114 weekly departures while flyLAL has non-stop services to 10 airports across Europe from just 48 weekly departures.

Image: Vilnius architecture
Ever seen a ceiling like this in an airport lounge before? Still-in-use Stalin-era architecture at Vilnius coexists alongside post-EU accession steel and glass.

While flyLAL is now a privately-owned Lithuanian carrier, airBaltic is based in neighbouring Latvia and is part-owned by SAS. With five flights per day from Vilnius to its base in Riga the airline is trying to feed Lithuanian traffic through its ‘hub’, which, with over three million passengers in 2007, is considerably larger than Vilnius. However, flyLAL is fighting back and has seen its traffic grow by 63% in the first ten months of 2008 having grown its fleet to 16 aircraft (two 757s, 10 737s and four Saab 2000s) and adding Budapest, London Stansted, Madrid and Stockholm Arlanda as new destinations during the year. It expects to carry around 750,000 passengers this year.

Other airlines serving Vilnius include Aer Lingus, Austrian, CSA Czech Airlines, Finnair, LOT, Lufthansa and Norwegian each operating just one route.

Image: Vilnius airport seasonality
Source: Vilnius Airport

As a result traffic at Vilnius has grown by over 25% in the first nine months of 2008 although growth in October fell to just 4% and traffic was down 12% in November as a result of capacity rationalisation by airBaltic and flyLAL. Despite this the airport is still on track to exceed two million passengers for the first time in 2008.

Ryanair is the only scheduled carrier at Kaunas

Image: KaunasLithuania has two other airports with scheduled services at present. Kaunas, which is less than 100 kilometres from Vilnius, handled 391,000 passengers in 2007 up almost 60% on the previous year. Ryanair started serving the airport from London Stansted in September 2005 and added Dublin the following April. It now serves both routes daily. This winter there are also low frequency routes to Birmingham, Frankfurt Hahn and London Luton. In the past the airline has also tried routes to Glasgow Prestwick, Liverpool, Shannon and Stockholm Skavsta. However, none of these are currently served, although Liverpool services return next summer.

The other airport with scheduled services is Palanga/Klapeida which this winter has routes to Copenhagen (twice daily with SAS) and Oslo Rygge (twice-weekly with Norwegian). Last year Palanga handled around 93,000 passengers.


  1. Arthur Dent says:

    Sadly flyLAL ceased operations on 17 January 2009 thus becoming the first European airline casualty of 2009.

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