In 2019 the Latvian aviation industry experienced rapid growth, including airport expansion and passenger increase, according to Civil Aviation Agency (CAA) Communications Director Aivis Vincevs on February 5.
It was an especially successful year for the airBaltic and SmartLynx Airlines, the two largest airlines registered in Latvia. Both companies experienced a more than 20% growth in number of passengers, together servicing more than 8.6 million passengers. In 2018 the two companies serviced over 7.1 million passengers.
The companies also saw an increase in the number of flights. Last year airBaltic flew 62,748 flights, mostly from Latvian airports (55,593 flights), while SmartLynx Airlines flew most of their 55,593 flights from foreign airports. The airline has, however, increased the number of flights from Latvian airports (573 flights) by 12.13% compared to the previous year.
Passenger numbers at Latvian international airports increased by 10.57% last year, servicing 7,812,464 passengers in total. The international Liepāja Airport serviced 14,082 passengers last year, which is a 44% increase from the previous year, and more than doubled the number of flights from 1,500 in 2018 to 3,552 in 2019. Much of the growth is due to training flights.
Rīga International Airport experienced a 10% passenger increase in 2019, servicing 7,798,382 passengers. It also saw a 4.2% increase in flights, reaching 87,007 flights last year. On the other hand, the airport experienced a 3.5% decrease in cargo, with numbers falling to 27,265 tonnes. This slight decrease can be explained by carrier Turkish Cargo’s decision to cease regular flights to Rīga. Meanwhile other Rīga carriers experienced a 7% increase, which can be explained by a 17% increase in mail parcels and Russian carrier Atran entering the market.
Latvian cargo airline RAF-Avia increased transported cargo amounts by 9.2%, reaching 2,498 tonnes in 2019, mostly from foreign airports. Last year the company had only 18 domestic flights out of a total of 2,217. The company also transports passengers, though that number decreased from 15,080 passengers in 2018 to 7,592 in 2019.
The number of transit flights in Latvian airspace, guided by air navigation service provider Latvijas Gaisa Satiksme (LGS), increased by 2.88%, seeing 215,269 transit flights. LGS guided 302,049 flights in total last year, which is a 3.27% increase over the previous year.
The CAA predicts that in 2020 growth will continue, but at a slower rate due to increasing fuel and ticket costs. According to European Union Airline Safety Agency (EASA) data, fuel prices increased by 7% in 2019, and ticket prices increased by 3.9% compared to 2018.
In Europe the aviation industry growth rate has decreased over the past few months, even reaching negative numbers. The number of flights in November 2019 was 1.9% less than in the previous year, and in October the decrease was 0.4%. This can be explained by a worsening economic situation, trade tensions and political unrest, as well as airline bankruptcies. All data has not yet been compiled, but total European aviation industry growth for 2019 is predicted at 1.1%.