AirBaltic Expands UK Footprint

Latvian carrier airBaltic has announced plans to fly between Manchester and Riga. The new scheduled services are due to launch on March 29, and will mark the airline’s third UK destination after London/Gatwick and a seasonal operation to Aberdeen. The link is designed to offer convenient connections to passengers flying not only to the Latvian capital, but also to 70 onward destinations across Scandinavia, Russia, and the Middle East. The development boosts competition on the route, with low-cost giant Ryanair already linking the two cities using Boeing 737-800 examples.

The nonstop routing from Manchester will operate four-times weekly and be served using the carrier’s new Airbus A220-300 aircraft. AirBaltic has one of the world’s largest fleets of the narrowbody jet, which represents one of the greenest in its class alongside wider seats and larger windows when compared with its competitors.

Martin Gauss, airBaltic chief executive officer commented on the Latvian capital’s appeal for inbound visitors: “Riga is a dynamic city and a key business centre of the Baltic states and has a lot to offer to both business and leisure travellers. It is also a very convenient transfer point with excellent connections within our wide route network.”

Photo: airBaltic

Traffic on the Riga-based carrier’s existing UK routes continues to grow, with 17% more passengers expected in 2019 than last year – of these, almost a fifth of travellers are transferring onwards. Data from the airline suggests the other Baltic capitals of Tallinn and Vilnius are popular final destinations, along with Helsinki and Turku in Finland, and Moscow and St Petersburg in Russia.

Stephen Turner, commercial director at Manchester Airport added: “Riga is already a very popular destination, so it is great to see the Latvian flag carrier come onto the route too, giving additional choice and flexibility for the 22 million people in our vast catchment area. We look forward to the route starting next year and seeing the airline grow from the UK’s global gateway in the North.”

The news forms part of a wider network expansion from the airline, with plans for four more new destinations for summer 2020: from Riga to Trondheim, Bergen and Yerevan, and from Tallinn to Nice.

Saudia Accepts Largest Dreamliner Variant

Boeing has delivered an initial 787-10 to Saudi Arabian Airlines, making the Middle Eastern carrier the eighth operator of the largest Dreamliner variant.

The airline has been a 787 user since January 2016 and currently flies 13 examples of the 207ft (63m) long 787-9.

Saleh bin Nasser Al-Jasser, the airline’s director general, said: “Saudia operates a state-of-the-art fleet equipped with the latest technology, and in addition to the airline’s existing Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners, is now adding the 787-10 variant which will further support future network growth plans. The airplane’s onboard cabin features, long range capability and the latest in technological advancements are among the many aspects of what makes the Boeing 787 highly popular with our guests.”

Ihssane Mounir, Boeing’s senior vice president of commercial sales and marketing, added: “Saudia has been a valued partner with Boeing for nearly 75 years and this delivery marks another major milestone in our partnership. Our team takes great pride in building and delivering quality aircraft to Saudia and we are honoured by the continuing confidence in the 787 Dreamliner and 777 families. The addition of the 787-10 to Saudia’s fleet will continue the superior inflight experience that passengers have come to expect of the Dreamliner. Moreover, the unmatched fuel efficiency of the 787 will help Saudia open new routes and achieve significant fuel savings and emission reduction.

Boeing says that, since the airliner entered service in 2011, it has “enabled the opening of more than 235 new point-to-point routes and saved more than 40bn pounds of fuel”. To date, the manufacturer has handed over 38 787-10s to Singapore Airlines, Etihad Airways, United Airlines, EVA Air, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, All Nippon Airlines, Vietnam Airlines and Saudia.

Maiden Middle Eastern A220 for EgyptAir

EgyptAir Express has accepted its first of 12 Airbus A220-300s, becoming the first carrier to operate the type in the Middle East. It is only the sixth airline worldwide to fly the type, following deliveries to airBaltic, Swiss, Korean Air, Delta Air Lines and Air Tanzania.

The Cairo-based carrier is set to use the Canadian-built jets on domestic services and international routes to Middle Eastern, North African and Southern European destinations. They will replace 12 Embraer E170s which are gradually being phased out. An initial E1, SU-GCV (c/n 17000170), was retired in mid-June. It has been sold to Tunisian start-up Jasmin Airways along with sistership, SU-GCW (c/n 17000175).


The airliner is fitted out with a two-class interior accommodating 125 economy and 15 premium economy travellers. Alongside 11 further A220s, the carrier is awaiting delivery of 15 A320neos from the European manufacturer.

ATR Receives Tunisair Express Order

Tunisair Express has signed a firm order with ATR for three ATR 72-600s. The deal, worth $80.4m at list prices, will enable the North African regional airline to renew its modest fleet of two ATR 72-500s and a sole Bombardier CRJ-900 – all of which were acquired in the early part of 2011.

The turboprops will provide an additional two seats over their 70-seat -500 predecessors, but a loss of 16 seats when compared with the CRJ-900, which can accommodate up to 88 passengers.

The airline flies from its Tunis/Carthage base to four domestic destinations – Sfax, Djerba, Tozeur and El Borma. Internationally, it connects Tunis with Malta and the Italian cities of Naples, Catania, Palermo, Cagliari, Alghero and Comiso.

Yosr Chouari, Director General of Tunisair Express said: “We have had a long and strong partnership with ATR since the early 1990s, and we are pleased to introduce the modern ATR 72-600 into our fleet thanks to the support of the Tunisian Government and parent company Tunisair. We are sure that our passengers will greatly appreciate the modern, spacious cabin with its widest-in-class seats and the new cutting edge Cabinstream™ technology giving our passengers an exceptional on-board experience.”

ATR CEO, Stefano Bortoli, commented: “The decision of Tunisair Express for three new ATR 72-600s is a further endorsement of our product and validates our policy of continuous development. With a dispatch reliability of 99.7%, its effectiveness in hot conditions, and its performance perfectly suited to the operations envisaged by Tunisair, the ATR is the ideal aircraft to continue supplying essential connectivity throughout Tunisia and beyond its borders.”

The Franco-Italian manufacturer believes there is a demand for “350 new turboprops in Africa and the Middle East over the next 20 years”.

Airbus Shopping Spree for AirAsia X

AirAsia X, the long-haul unit of the AirAsia Group, has confirmed a firm order with Airbus for an additional batch of single and twin-aisle aircraft. In total, the Kuala Lumpur-based firm will acquire 12 Airbus A330-900 examples and and 30 A321XLRs.

The deal, signed on August 30 in the Malaysian capital, increases the number of A330neos ordered by AirAsia X to 78, cementing the low-cost carrier’s position as the largest airline customer for the new type. In a further indication of the power of the Airbus/AirAsia partnership, the A321XLR order sees the wider AirAsia Group solidify its status as the world’s largest airline customer for the A320 Family, having now ordered a staggering 622 examples.

Tony Fernandes, AirAsia Group CEO commented: “This order reaffirms our selection of the A330neo as the most efficient choice for our future widebody fleet. In addition, the A321XLR offers the longest flying range of any single aisle aircraft and will enable us to introduce services to new destinations. Together, these aircraft are perfect partners for long-haul low cost operations and will allow us to build further on our market leading position in this fast-growing sector.”

Photo: Airbus

Guillaume Faury, Airbus CEO added: “AirAsia X has been the pioneer of the long haul low cost model in the Asia-Pacific region. This new order for the A330neo and A321XLR is a true endorsement of the Airbus solution to meet mid-market demand with a combination of single aisle and widebody products. This powerful solution will provide AirAsia X with the lowest possible operating costs to expand its network and enable even more people to fly further than ever before.”

AirAsia X currently operates a fleet of 36 of the A330-300 variant on a host of services to points within the Asia-Pacific region, in addition to more sporadic operations to and from the Middle East.

Speaking as the news was announced, Rafidah Aziz, chairman of AirAsia X hinted that the new widebody arrivals could see the carrier extend its footprint further west, and potentially into southern Europe: “The A330neo’s revolutionary new features and modifications will move our long-haul service sectors up to a higher level and allow AirAsia X to look at expanding beyond the eight-hour flight radius, such as to Europe, for example,” he revealed.

Photo: Airbus-AirAsia

As part of the agreement, Airbus will expand its maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) presence in Malaysia and establish the Airbus Malaysia Digital Initiative to “enhance the competitiveness of the local aerospace sector through the application of new digital technologies” as part of a wider scheme by the country’s government to transform Malaysia into a regional aerospace hub. The European manufacturer is also due to boost its commitment to the Aerospace Malaysia Innovation Centre (AMIC) – of which it is a founding member – by appointing an innovation technical director and increasing its funding for joint research programmes, including into the production of sustainable aviation biofuels in the southeast Asian nation.

The order comes just weeks after AirAsia’s Bangkok-based long haul affiliate, AirAsia X Thailand received its first A330-900. The airframe is the first of two leased neos joining the Thai affiliate before the end of 2019.

Dreamliners Fuel El Al’s International Expansion

Israeli flag carrier El Al has announced its latest long-haul destination as it continues a period of major international growth. A new link to Japan is due to launch in spring 2020 with thrice-weekly non-stop flights on the airline’s new Boeing 787 Dreamliner examples.

The inaugural rotation from Tel Aviv/Ben Gurion to Tokyo, is set to be Flight LY091, which will take off on March 11, with maiden service back to the Middle East – operating as LY092 – departing the following day. Flight times are rostered at approximately 11 hours 30 minutes eastbound, and 12hrs 30mins for the return. The announcement marks the first time that scheduled commercial flights have operated between the two nations.

Michael Strassburger, El Al vice president of commercial and industry affairs commented: “We can now offer a non-stop flight experience on 787 Dreamliner aircraft on flights to the land of the rising sun. The opening of the non-stop route to Japan, in particular next year when the Olympic Games are to be held there, is expected to increase traffic and significantly strengthen economic and political ties between Israel and Japan.”

Andre Wadman/Wikimedia Commons

Closer to home, new routes to Dublin are set to take to the skies from May 26, and to Dusseldorf from June 1. El Al will offer three weekly non-stop services to both cities, with the connections operated by 737 examples in a two-class configuration. While the addition of Dublin marks the airline’s first destination in Ireland, Dusseldorf joins Frankfurt, Munich and Berlin in the El Al network, bringing the total number of weekly rotations by the carrier between Tel Aviv and Germany to 36.

The latest announcements follow a period of significant international expansion for the Israeli firm. The airline has recently launched a host of transatlantic routes, including San Francisco, Las Vegas/McCarran and a seasonal service to Orlando. Within Europe, both Nice and Manchester have also been added to the company’s network.

In addition to wider economic factors, the growth of the carrier’s long-haul footprint has been made possible thanks to a major fleet overhaul as elderly 747 and 767 examples are replaced by fuel efficient Dreamliners. El Al currently has 11 of the new widebodies in its all-Boeing fleet, a figure which is due to rise to 16 by March 2020.

Photos: airBaltic’s A220 Hattrick

AirBaltic has completed its trio of special Baltic liveried Airbus A220s with the application of the Lithuanian flag to the fuselage and tailplane of YL-CSK (c/n 55039). The jet has also been renamed ‘Vilnius’, after the country’s capital city.

It Joins Latvian and Estonian-inspired colour schemes which were rolled out in November and June respectively.

Coinciding with the country’s centenary, the initial aircraft, YL-CSL (c/n 55041) flew over Riga in formation with a pair of Belgian Air Component F-16AMs and a German Air Force Eurofighter EF-2000, which were deployed to Šiauliai, Lithuania and Ämari, Estonia on Baltic Air Policing duties.


Unveiling the third aircraft, the airline said: “During the first six months of 2019 airBaltic has transported over 240,000 passengers to and from Lithuania. The airline has carried 20% more passengers in Lithuania to its network spanning Europe, Scandinavia, Russia, CIS and the Middle East than during the same period last year.”

It reported similar growth in June when revealing it had painted A220, YL-CSJ (c/n 50038), in Estonian national colours: “[Over] the first five months of 2019 airBaltic has transported [more than] 210,000 passengers to and from Estonia. [It also] carried 31% more passengers in Estonia to its network than during the same period [in 2018].”


Martin Gauss, the carrier’s CEO: “We are proud to provide the best connectivity to and from the Baltics. Today, we offer more than 80 direct routes from the Baltics. We are committed to the Baltic states and will continue our sustainable growth path helping the future development of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania. airBaltic team is delighted to present this new livery to its Lithuanian passengers. Now the flags of all three Baltic states will proudly wave above our heads high in the skies.”

The three aircraft are expected to be gathered together for an event later this month celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Baltic Way – a peaceful political protest held on August 23, 1989. Reuters news agency reported at the time that 700,000 Estonians, 500,000 Latvians and 1m Lithuanians joined hands, forming a human chain from Tallinn, through Riga, to Vilnius – around 373 miles (600km).

Low-cost From London to the Middle East

Jazeera Airways is to connect its Kuwait City base with London/Gatwick from October 27, opening the first new service between the UK and the Middle Eastern nation in 55 years. The low-cost carrier will fly daily services using Airbus A320neos.

In addition to serving Kuwait, passengers will be able to fly onwards to Dubai, Bahrain and Doha in the Arabian Gulf and to New Delhi in India. The link will be the first with the airline’s new premium economy product, which includes a 31in (79cm) seat pitch and a complementary meal, while business class offers a 33in (84cm) pitch, priority boarding and an in-flight meal.

Speaking of the milestone launch, the carrier’s chairman, Marwan Boodai, said: “Jazeera Airways has been building a great reputation in the Middle East in the low-cost airline sector, offering a strong alternative to the legacy airlines. We look forward to serving the UK market, and extending consumer choice to Kuwait and the Gulf, with our value proposition. This is a first an LCC in the Middle East will fly long-haul, using the A320neo aircraft.”

Michael Davenport MBE, British Ambassador to the State of Kuwait, said: “I am delighted to see Jazeera Airways launching this new service between Kuwait and Gatwick Airport, made possible by the new Air Services Agreement signed last year. It is really encouraging, as we mark the 120th Anniversary of the Kuwaiti-British Treaty of Friendship, to see more Kuwaitis visiting Britain and studying at British universities than ever before.”

The new 2,510nm (4,649km) link will not become the longest A320neo route when it begins in October. This distinction is currently held by S7 Airlines’ 2,840nm (5,270km) Moscow/Domodedovo-Tenerife/South connection.

Jazeera Airways currently operates a sole A320neo, 9K-CAQ (c/n 7396), which is understood to be configured with a two-class cabin seating 147 economy and 12 business class passengers. A second example, (c/n 9149, due to become 9K-CBC) was seen at Airbus’ Finkenwerder plant on July 31 in the carrier’s full livery, but without engines fitted. It is likely that this will be fitted with a three-class interior for the Gatwick service.

Schedules, subject to change:

Monday: J9001: KWI 08:40, LGW 12:45; J9002: LGW 13:55, KWI 23:15

Tuesday: J9001: KWI 08:40, LGW 12:45; J9002: LGW 13:45, KWI 23:05

Wednesday: J9001: KWI 08:40, LGW 12:45; J9002: LGW 13:45, KWI 23:05

Thursday: J9001: KWI 08:35, LGW 12:40; J9002: LGW 13:45, KWI 23:05

Friday: J9001: KWI 07:40, LGW 11:45; J9002: LGW 14:00, KWI 23:20

Saturday: J9001: KWI 11:00, LGW 15:05; J9002: LGW 16:40, KWI 02:00 (+1)

Sunday: J9001: KWI 06:45, LGW 10:50; J9002: LGW 12:35, KWI 21:55

Airbus in Alabama: A220 Production Begins

Airbus has started manufacturing the first A220s at its Mobile, Alabama-based final assembly line. Work began on August 5 and followed the return of the first group of technicians who had undergone on-the-job training at Mirabel, Québec, Canada, where the A220 programme and primary assembly line are located.

The company first revealed plans to establish a second final assembly line at Mobile in October 2017, with construction on a new production hangar and other support buildings starting earlier this year. Airbus said it will be producing the first few A220s in the same buildings as it uses for the A320 Family aircraft while also utilising recently completed support hangars. The first US produced A220 – a -300 for Delta Air Lines – is scheduled for delivery during the third quarter of next year, and by the middle of the next decade, the facility will be producing between 40 and 50 A220s per year.

After completing their training in Mirabel, the initial group of technicians has started work on the first A220 final assembly in Mobile, Alabama. (Photo Airbus)

Jeffrey Knittel, Airbus Americas chairman and chief executive office, remarked: “The expansion of our commercial aircraft production in Mobile to a second product line – with 400 additional jobs to support it – further solidifies Airbus’ standing as a truly global aircraft manufacturer, and confirms without a doubt that it is also an important part of America’s manufacturing landscape. With Mobile, and our production network in Asia, Canada and Europe, we have strategically created a worldwide industrial base to better serve our customers.”

Airbus explained the A220 is the only purpose-built aircraft for the 100-150 seat market. With the very latest aerodynamics, use of advanced materials and Pratt & Whitney PW15000G geared turbofan engines the jet is already achieving at least a 20% lower fuel burn per seat compared to previous generation types. With orders for 551 examples by the end of June 2019, the manufacturer believes it has the credentials to win a lion’s share of the 100-150 seat market, estimated to represent 7,000 aircraft, over the next 20 years.

Etihad Boosts Heathrow Year-Round Frequency

Etihad Airways will add a fourth year-round daily rotation between its Abu Dhabi hub and Heathrow within its upcoming winter schedule. The UAE national carrier says the enhanced frequency will launch on October 27 to link the two capitals and timed to depart the Middle East mid-morning and return for a late evening departure from London.

It follows a successful trial by Etihad with extra seasonal services this summer into Heathrow, which has seen up to five connections a day between the two airports.

The airline is rostering its two-class Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner for the new frequencies, with the jet configured with 28 Business Studios and 271 economy seats. Guests looking for the airline’s famous ‘Residence’ option or first class ‘apartments’, will need to fly on one of the carrier’s existing thrice-daily Airbus A380 services into the West London airport.

Robin Kamark, chief commercial officer, Etihad Aviation Group, said: “The new service demonstrates our commitment to the crucially important UK market, and ensures we provide our customers with all the benefits of a next-generation fleet across all 42 weekly departures to and from the United Kingdom. Adding a fourth year-round flight will provide much needed capacity and optimised timings and easy connections to key destinations across the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Australia.”