The first signs that Europe’s regional airlines are slowly getting back into the air has been reported by numerous media organisations, although concerns over how and where passengers will be seated, and what will actually happen during a flight remain uncertain. For some operators, the changes are even bigger. A restructuring of its fleet means airBaltic is resuming its services as an all-Airbus A220 airline and has already started flying between the Baltic capitals of Riga, Tallinn and Vilnius. Further destinations in Europe will be added in the coming weeks, the airline has revealed, but only if suitable precautions are in place.

With the need to get back into the sky and generate income, it’s a brave decision by airBaltic to go all-A220. It means that the airline has effectively lost 40% of its fleet, but perhaps it’s the ideal time to make such a move, with air traffic in Europe only slowly emerging from a global grounding. On the other hand, the airline’s fleet of Dash 8-400s and 737-300 aircraft was ageing and, for an airline, finding a good time to retire its old aircraft is always a fine balance based on profit and passenger demand. But the COVID-19 grounding has effectively allowed airBaltic the time to remove the 737-300s and Dash 8-400s without creating any operational backlash, and in the process allowed the airline to re-enter the market leaner and more efficient than ever before.

Might we see similar moves by other regional carriers as they seek to recover lost revenues? The need for a vast fleet of single-aisle aircraft is unlikely to be necessary anytime soon, with many LCCs and regional operators choosing to take a slow, gradual build-up to their schedules, which is unlikely to reach 2019 levels before the end of 2020. So, I wonder if airBaltic’s bold new plan of a leaner if not necessarily meaner approach may well be copied by other carriers as they also seek to go for a single type.

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