Entrepreneurial airBaltic extends brand to taxi and bike sharing services

In the last years, Latvian national airline airBaltic has made a transformation from a point-to-point low-cost carrier to a hybrid network LCC. The airline has turned its Riga hub into a connecting point for travelers from Nordic and Northwestern Europe to the rapidly growing markets of the former Soviet Union and the Middle East. airBaltic offers transfer its passengers (60% of customers) at Riga through ticketing and check-in, as well as 25-minute connection times, and other hybrid LCC features include a 2-class cabin, airport lounge, and a frequent flyer program.

airBaltic has been growing its network fast, adding 15 new routes in 2008, 11 in 2009, and 27 routes this year (for example adding smaller cities in Finland). In 2009, the airline carried 2.75 million passengers and according to AEA data passenger numbers grew 19% in the first 5 months of 2010. Besides this aggressive hub strategy, the company behind airBaltic, Baltic Aviation Systems, seems to be turning into a Baltic version of the easyGroup (of easyJet and easyHotel fame), using the airBaltic brand (simple, reliable, affordable, visible) to enter other markets.

In April 2010, airBaltic established its own taxi company, BalticTAXI, in order to improve the quality of the taxi business in the capital. Taxi drivers in Riga often charge too much for rides, which is damaging the image of Riga and Latvia. Citing a lack of government interest to improve the situation, airBaltic believed there was room for a new transparent entrant. BalticTAXI’s fleet of 120 Toyota Corolla Verso vehicles is staffed by professional uniformed drivers, and for example there is a fixed price for the journey from the airport to any location in Riga.

Passengers can purchase pre-paid taxi vouchers onboard airBaltic and members of the airline’s loyalty program receive a 10% discount. To promote the taxi service, ads for BalticTAXI can be found in airBaltic’s in-flight magazine and a cabin crew announcement is made after landing in Riga. BalticTAXI reportedly plans to expand to Estonia, Lithuania and the Ukraine.

In June 2010, airBaltic launched BalticBike – the first bike sharing system in the Baltics – in Riga and the seaside resort of Jarmala, as a cheap and green way for visitors to get across town. Registered members can pick up one of the 100 bicycles at 8 locations in Riga and 3 in Jurmala and use the bikes as long as they want. To rent a bike, members call the phone number printed on the bicycle to receive a code that unlocks the bike. Bikes can be returned to any station, and another call completes the rental. Prices are LVL1 (EUR1.40) per hour with a maximum of LVL8 (EUR11.40) a day and EUR 100 a month.

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