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A Look into airBaltic’s MRO at Riga Airport

DALLAS — The delivery of the Bombardier CS300 in 2016 was a highly anticipated milestone for airBaltic (BT). The new aircraft was set to replace the airline's aging Boeing 737 classic fleet, with a complete transition targeted for 2020.

Eight years have passed, and the Baltic carrier has successfully transitioned to a modern fleet comprised exclusively of the now-rebranded Airbus A220-300 aircraft. BT currently has 47 of the type in service and aims to expand its fleet size to 100 by 2030.

As the largest global operator of the Airbus A220, BT undertook a complete transition of its maintenance hangar in Riga to cater to the airline's operational needs, create new jobs for the country, and attain experience for its eventual expansion into the Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul (MRO) industry.

After obtaining EASA Part 145 certification for Heavy Maintenance in September 2019, the company conducted its first C-Check maintenance on one of its A220s aircraft in November of that year. Since then, the results have been positive, and the future seems even brighter.

Last week, Airways visited airBaltic's MRO hangar at Riga International Airport (RIX) to learn more about the airline's A220 maintenance and upcoming plans in this area.

C2-Check Overview 

airBaltic’s Vice President of Base Maintenance Vjačeslavs Konstantinovs provided a firsthand overview of C2-Check maintenance in BT's largest hangar. 

The facility houses three lines dedicated to heavy maintenance tasks, with nearly 150 workers and a technical department of over 550 professionals who collectively ensure compliance with airworthiness and operational standards.

C2 checks are conducted when the Airbus A220-300s reach six years of service or approximately 17,000 flight hours. The inspection involves disassembly and extensive testing and examination of components, structures, and systems to ensure their optimal functionality. It typically lasts between two and three months.

During our visit, Konstantinovs emphasized the engine issues around the Pratt & Whitney Geared Turbofan (GTF) PW1500G engines, ranging from shortened spare parts lifespan to supply chain woes. BT is readying for a capacity limitation during the fourth quarter of the year due to planned engine maintenance.

“Unfortunately, there are a lot of operators who are struggling with the material issues, which means that even if you have the time, even if you have the resources,  you physically order the material, but you can’t receive it, and unfortunately you can’t finish the maintenance,” Konstantinovs admitted.

In 2023, airBaltic began negotiations with Pratt & Whitney to find a suitable solution, although the conversations are still ongoing. The airline expects to be compensated for these delays, although the nature and scope of that compensation remain confidential.

Martin Gauss, CEO of airBaltic, reminds us that the airline is also gearing up for its initial public offering (IPO) in the latter half of this year and reiterated that the IPO is proceeding as planned and that the engine issues do not pose any impediment.

New Maintenance Hangar in Riga

The airline announced plans for a new maintenance hangar in Riga dedicated to serving its Airbus A220-300 fleet and third parties. The new facility, set to become the largest hangar in the Baltic states, represents a significant investment estimated to be in billions of euros. Spanning over 34,500 sqm, this hangar will feature eight maintenance lines.

The hangar’s design will allow for simultaneous line-and-base maintenance of up to eight A220-300 aircraft. This capacity will not only support airBaltic's growing fleet but also position the airline as a key player in the A220 maintenance market. By offering maintenance services to other A220-300 operators, airBaltic aims to establish itself as a major hub for A220 maintenance.

Konstantinovs confirmed to Airways that “we [airBaltic] will offer the maintenance to third customers like AirAustral, Air France, SWISS and other colleagues.” He went on to add, “At some point, we will have 100 aircraft flying. When the last aircraft is received, we are still planning to provide maintenance to third companies because airBaltic also would like to develop a maintenance business and create one of the biggest MRO here in [the] baltic states.”

Technical Academy, Focus on Passenger Experience

Earlier in May, BT announced the launch of a technical academy, which will resemble the widely known BT pilots training academy in Europe. The airline plans to launch its technical academy to ensure the sourcing of staff for ongoing and future fleet maintenance needs while providing local jobs and stimulating the local economy. 

airBaltic is currently conducting testing and seeking certification for SpaceX Starlink Wi-Fi connectivity on its Airbus A220 fleet. Testing is underway in Riga with Starlink’s team to identify and address any potential issues that may arise during the certification process.

The airline aims to have the first certified aircraft equipped with Starlink by the end of this year. However, the timeline is subject to approval from the corresponding authorities and Airbus.

The launch of Wi-Fi connectivity onboard also comes with the latest announcement of new passenger cabin seats. The airline has chosen RECARO to furnish its fleet. BT has also announced that seats will be equipped with individual USB-C ports, integrated headrests, and 30 inches of seat pitch.

Final Thoughts 

Despite the ongoing engine issues, airBaltic continues to rapidly expand its route network, aiming to establish itself as one of the leading carriers in Europe.

The airline offers flights to over 130 destinations across Europe and the Middle East, relying on the performance of the Airbus A220 aircraft, which has played a significant role in airBaltic's success.

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