airBaltic approved for U.S. flights, but start date unclear

Rīga-based airBaltic Corp. has received approval to begin flights from Europe to the United States, but eager Latvian tourists should not start packing their bags just yet.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) on May 22 approved an application from airBaltic and its longtime partner Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS) to operate transatlantic flights under a code-share agreement. Under a code-share agreement, airBaltic would be able to market flights to the U.S., but the airplanes and crew would be those of SAS.

However, when such flights might begin is not clear.

“Even though airBaltic has previously expressed interest in opening flights to the U.S., in 2009 we definitely will not yet be doing so because of the global economic situation,” Jānis Vanags, airBaltic’s vice president for corporate communications, told Latvians Online in an e-mail.

According to a public notice issued by the DOT, SAS and airBaltic initially would intend to serve the following routes: New York (Newark Liberty International Airport) and Copenhagen; New York (Newark) and Stockholm; Chicago (Chicago O’Hare International Airport) and Copenhagen; Chicago (O’Hare) and Stockholm; and Washington, D.C. (Dulles International Airport), and Copenhagen. AirBaltic has connecting routes to Rīga from Copenhagen and Stockholm.

The Latvian carrier’s authority to operate the code-shared flights would expire in May 2010, according to the public notice.

Latvia joined the U.S. Visa Waiver Program in November, meaning that Latvian citizens are able to travel to the United States without a visa.

AirBaltic was formed in 1995. Its majority stockholder, controlling 52.6 percent of shares, is the Latvian government.

Although like many other airlines the company is facing economic pressures, airBaltic recorded a 36 percent increase in passengers during the first quarter of this year compared to the same period in 2008, Vanags said. This summer, the airline is opening seven new routes from Rīga to Dushanbe, Tajikistan; Geneva, Switzerland; Linkoping, Sweden; Tromsø, Norway; Turku, Finland; and Palanga and Kaunas, Lithuania.

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

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