AirBaltic looks to ‘top up the Q400 fleet’

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Published: July 13, 2012

AirBaltic Q400

AirBaltic (BT) is planning to add up to three Bombardier Q400s this winter and is mulling its options as four Boeing 737s come to the end of its lease.

Riga-based BT operates 34-aircraft, comprising two Boeing 757-200s, eight 737-300s, six 737-500s, eight Bombardier Q400s and 10 Fokker 50s. By 2017, all of the 737 leases will have expired.

During the Farnborough Airshow, BT announced plans to replace its jet fleet between 2015 and 2017 with 10 Bombardier CSeries CS300s ( ATW Daily News, July 10 ). During the press conference, CEO Martin Gauss also said he was looking to “top up the Q400 fleet.”

Speaking to ATW after the show, Gauss said BT plans to take “two or three” Q400s on a long-term basis by no later than October. “They could be new or used,” Gauss said. “Part of our discussion with Bombardier was to see if we could get new ones for a good price. We are still talking about this.”

If BT does take new Q400s, Gauss said it would be on sale and leaseback.

The Q400 additions are well-timed because two 737-500s and two 737-300s will come off lease this winter. By bringing in the Q400s, Gauss said BT will cut capacity over the quieter winter months and defer replacement of the four 737s until next spring.

“It is good that these leases are running out because part of our business plan is to reduce costs by extending our leases, or renewing with other aircraft,” Gauss said.

If the airline can secure a good price for 737-700s, this could be an option. Otherwise, it will probably go for more 737-300s. BT does not plan to take any more 737-500s.

Boeing’s 737 MAX and Airbus’ neo family were also in the running for the jet renewal, but BT decided to go with the smaller CS300.

“It’s only summer when we need bigger aircraft; the rest of the year we are happy with 150 seats. If we find that we need 200 seats, then we are with Boeing today, so we would upgrade our 737s to -800s. If we have a new route coming along which requires a 737-800, we would think about that.”

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