Wolfgang Reuss, head of airBaltic’s network planning department, talks about his job, experience, travelling and leisure time.

What does your new position at airBaltic entail?

Since September of this year, I have joined the airline’s network planning department, which is responsible for everything from route studies to business plans. We make flight schedules and prepare them for operation; we do economic analyses on future potential destinations. We keep a close eye on how existing routes are performing, which means working in conjunction with the revenue management and sales departments. We monitor the competition provided by other airlines on the same routes, and we decide what measures to apply to keep our service competitive. The main underlying principle behind our work is to serve Riga and the Baltics as well as possible – to deploy aircraft to the destinations where people want to fly, when they want to fly and in the frequency that they want to fly, at least to the best degree that we can. 

You have rather extensive experience in commercial aviation, don’t you?

I have been in aviation since 1997, when I began my career at Lauda Air in Vienna (which was part of the Austrian Airlines group) during my studies. I started working in the marketing department, but two years later I was drawn into the network planning department and have stayed in it ever since, albeit at various airlines! Then I worked for the Munich-based Deutsche BA until 2004, followed by three years with the Abu-Dhabi-based Etihad Airways. That was a truly exciting experience, because I had the chance to be with the team that started the airline from scratch. For the past nine years before joining airBaltic, I worked for Brussels Airlines.

What tempted you to join airBaltic?

I had not planned to do so, but I got talking to people from airBaltic and it started to look like an increasingly interesting opportunity. My attraction to airBaltic and to Riga was threefold. Firstly, airBaltic is operating in a very dynamic area. Riga is a hub at the crossroads between East and West, and being in the planning department of an airline that operates in such an area is extremely exciting. The second reason that tempted me is airBaltic’s upcoming fleet expansion plan. New aircraft will soon join the airline, and our department gets to take part in the fleet rollover from the planning perspective, which promises to be a huge enterprise. Bombardier series aircraft are very efficient, and their introduction will have a considerable effect on route planning, which I am looking forward to. And, thirdly, I am very excited about moving to Riga. I am still commuting between Riga and Brussels, as my wife and two sons are still there, but they will be joining me in Riga fully early next year. We all already love Riga, which is a unique city in a very interesting part of Europe – a part that had been largely unknown to us until now. My family has already been here for a couple of weekends, and we’ve done a cycling trip from Riga to Jūrmala. We loved it!

When it comes to network planning, what principles operate behind closing some destinations and opening new ones?

If we talk about closing or consolidating existing routes, then it is obviously because they do not bring in sufficient profit. There are two types of routes, which we call local market relevant routes and seasonal routes. The local market relevant routes are supposed to bring in a sustainable profit. Of course, competing airlines also fly on most of these routes, because we are operating in a highly competitive market. Therefore, to make sure that our local market relevant routes remain sustainable, we have to give the best product to our customers. While the transfer flow of passengers certainly is important, our main objective is to maintain and increase the offer to our home market. airBaltic has the most destinations out of Latvia by far. Right now, around 60 cities can be reached without switching a carrier, so preserving these routes and introducing new relevant ones is what we are all about. If we talk about opening new routes, then the establishment of a new local market relevant route is always the biggest challenge. Such a route may not yet be operated at all or, more likely, a competitor is already operating it. In such a case, our offer must be better than that of our competitor. We have to conduct extensive research about whether it will be possible to attract a sufficient share of the market, whether we have the right aircraft for the area, and whether we can market and sell the new route in such a way that will bring us profit over time. 
Each new route is a long-term investment, and we have to be ready to slowly build up our presence and market share over a period of time. Seasonal and niche routes can be opened more easily, because they don’t require the deployment of such a large capacity from the airline. They are also “safer bets”, because by following the seasonality curve it is comparatively easy to predict the passenger flow.

You have worked at various airlines for a long time. How has air travel changed in Europe?

Well, the largest change is that secondary destinations in Europe have become much more directly linked with each other during the last 10 to 15 years. Flights are not going through the main hubs as much as they did before. The destinations that attract the largest number of people have largely remained the same, only the flow has increased even more. People are travelling a lot more to Eastern Europe, now that these markets are open and new opportunities are available in many different fields. People who live in Eastern Europe travel much more as well, and more people from Western Europe go East to spend their holidays. 

What are your favourite travel destinations?

My wife is from New Zealand and my parents and sister live in Vienna, so New Zealand and Austria are on our family’s itinerary every year. I love to travel to France as well. We holiday in the French regions of Bretagne, Normandy and Corsica quite frequently. My favourite place in France is the Picardy region in the North with the peaceful Somme Estuary or Amiens with its cathedral and the Jules Verne Museum. 

Apart from travel, how do you like to spend your free time?

I love spending time with my family as much as possible. And – perhaps a little unusual for an airline employee – I absolutely love trains! Wherever we go on holiday, we make time for special train trips such as steam train rides. We are already planning to try them out in Latvia. We also have a model railway at home – for kids only, of course! BO