Getting a new route established is never a simple task. Sometimes, even when both airports at either end of the route are fully behind the initiative, it takes a little extra push to convince an airline to take the plunge. Here’s how some parked cars convinced airBaltic to fly from Tallinn to Malaga.
Discussing route development at the recent AviaDev Europe conference, I heard from Thea Gents, Network Development Manager at Tallinn Airport, about their uphill struggle to get a direct connection to Malaga. Having made a connection with the network developers at Malaga Airport, Gents worked to try and find a carrier to service what the partners knew would be a superb route. She said,
“We were pursuing Malaga for quite a few years. We had issues with finding a suitable carrier, finding the right aircraft that would allow the carriers to do it profitably…”
Finally, the airports found the right carrier for their route – airBaltic. Not only were they the right carrier, but their A220 aircraft were just the right size for the demand on the route too. The only problem was, airBaltic wanted to operate the route from Riga.
No funding or support
For Tallinn Airport, it was a tricky situation from which to develop a route. Usually, airlines can be supported with new route launches via financial incentives, but in this case, there wasn’t really any funding coming forward. Gents explained,
“Malaga is an outbound leisure destination. That meant that stakeholders, especially tourism boards in Estonia, could see there was not really any business traffic to support the route. They had no interest in investing in taking people out of Estonia to spend their money somewhere else. In terms of Spain and possible markets for Spanish tourism, Estonia is still a very small market, so we were pretty much on our own there.”
With no incentive for the tourism boards to sweeten the deal, it was down to the two airports to make a business case for the route. But there was a little something that helped.
Cars in the carpark
airBaltic had already launched a route to Malaga from neighboring Latvia. Operating out of Riga, the flight was doing well, but there was something unusual about how it was being used. Gents explained,
“What happened was that if you went to Riga airport, you’d see in the parking lot there were a lot of cars with Estonian license plates. Riga is not that far from Estonia, particularly in the south. Of course, it was also easy for the airline to see who the passengers were that were on board. So, they took the risk and decided to launch Tallinn to Malaga flights.”
When you’ve got neighboring nations with good road connections between the two, it’s not unusual for passengers to travel to different airports if the connections are better from there. But, in this case, the passengers were predominantly from Estonia, with hardly any coming from the local Latvian population.
Airports working together
Even without the financial support of their respective tourism boards, Tallinn Airport and Malaga Airport knew the route would work. Between them, the two airports worked in collaboration to demonstrate a business case for the route. Now airBaltic is operating the route, and Thea Gents says it’s doing rather well. She said,
“It’s exceeded everyone’s expectations, even ours.”
Latvian news outlet LSM reported that, in fact, airBaltic was taking the route year-round as a result of the unexpectedly high demand. Even before the route officially launched, back in May this year, the airline could see that it was a winner and took the decision to extend their schedule into the winter months.
That’s great news for airBaltic, and great news for both Tallinn and Malaga. Gents says that the airline noted how beneficial it was to have both airports working together. She said,
“We got feedback from airBaltic afterwards. They said they were very pleased to see us cooperating. They said that the decision for the airline was a bit faster and a bit more convenient as a result.”
Tallinn is fast becoming a major hub for airBaltic, with 17 direct flights already on offer. Malaga was launched alongside Copenhagen and Brussels from Tallinn last summer, making airBaltic the only airline offering direct connections to these cities. For the summer season 2020, the airline will also offer four new direct connections to Rome, Nice, Zurich and Hamburg from Estonia, undoubtedly aided by the strong and proactive support on offer from this airport.
You can watch this entire panel discussion on YouTube here. Simple Flying is partnering again with AviaDev for their forthcoming AviaDev Africa route development conference, to be held in Madagascar in May 2020.