Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Air Baltic gaining altitude

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Martin Gauss is a man who understands only too well the perils of running a state-owned airline. In 2012, shortly after he stepped down as chief executive of Malév Hungarian Airlines, the European Union ordered his former employer to repay €130 million of illegal state aid. Unable to do so, Malév, one of Europe’s oldest flag-carriers, ceased operations.

Its demise came just three months after Gauss had agreed to steer another troubled eastern European flag-carrier: Air Baltic. Within one year, history was repeating itself and Brussels was launching a new investigation into the Latvian airline.

The similarities, however, end there.

Whereas Malév relied on subsidies from its government owner to stay afloat – violating competition laws in the process – Air Baltic deployed private-sector efficiency and commercial sustainability to get its house in order. The EU’s two-year investigation failed to unearth any wrongdoing by the state-owned carrier, clearing the way for a bold new future in Latvia’s picturesque capital Riga...