Senior vice-president of flight operations Pauls Cālītis has been with airBaltic since its very inception more than 20 years ago. He has seen the company grow and become one of the most modern airlines in Europe. He has also piloted most of the airplanes that have been in airBaltic’s fleet. Cālītis is responsible for managing the airline’s flight operations and for the introduction of airBaltic’s brand new Bombardier CS300 aircraft


The first new CS300 plane from Bombardier’s C Series has just joined airBaltic’s fleet. What induced the airline to choose this particular aircraft?

airBaltic decided to modernise its fleet in 2011. When we released our tender, we wanted to make sure that the submissions would be of uniformly high quality, for example, regarding the aircraft engines, passenger cabin features, cockpit, avionics and many other aspects. In a very close competition between three manufacturers, Bombardier ended up being the winner with its CS300, as this aircraft best corresponded to our needs. After that, we spent half a year negotiating the final contract, in which everything had to be specified, including the flight altitude, air speed, fuel consumption, load capacity and guarantees. It wasn’t easy to set up a purchasing contract for a plane that hadn’t even been built yet! I’ve been with the C Series project from the very beginning, and now it’s fantastic to fly with the CS300! All of that planning, paperwork and effort has resulted in the most modern passenger aircraft on the market. That is incredibly satisfying! It was a pretty long road, with several years spent carefully planning out every detail of the new aircraft. The people at Bombardier are doubtless just as happy as we are. It’s great to see how effortlessly the CS300 takes off into the air and does what it was designed to do – bring passengers to their destination in safety and comfort.

You were one of the first five pilots to fly the new CS300. How did the pilot training take place?

The first part of our training lasted a month and took place at the Bombardier training centre in Montreal. We spent two weeks learning theory. In parallel, we conducted practical work by familiarising ourselves with the layout of the instruments in the new aircraft’s cockpit. After passing our exams in theory, we had nine sessions in an aircraft simulator, with each session lasting about four hours. The most interesting part of the training took place at the very end, when for the first time, we could pilot the new aircraft and practise taking off and landing. I was both happy and amazed at how smooth my first landing was. The next airBaltic pilots will take the theory course and conduct their sessions in the simulator at the Lufthansa training centre in Frankfurt. They’ll be able to complete the final part of their training with the CS300 planes right here in Riga.

How many pilots do you plan to train to fly the new CS300?

Next year, we will supplement our fleet with eight more new aircraft, and each plane needs about ten pilots. For the most part, we will train pilots from our own airline, but we will also need to recruit first officers (co-pilots) outside of the company. The European airline regulator EASA has standards and recommendations concerning the level of experience that pilots should have for learning to fly the CS300. Within airBaltic itself, we are selecting pilots in accordance with our internal promotion criteria. I will add that this process is voluntary and that only those pilots who actually express the wish to learn how to fly the new CS300 will be considered as candidates.

For airline pilots, how does the CS300 differ from other passenger planes?

First and foremost, the CS300 is a next generation aircraft with the most advanced technologies available in the cockpit. On one hand, these technologies make the pilot’s work much easier, while on the other hand, the instruments on board are more intricate than on other planes, and the automatic systems must be properly deployed. Unlike Boeing aircraft, which are piloted with yokes (control wheels), the CS300 is piloted with a side stick. I was surprised at the ease with which the plane could be flown! The pilot controls and instruments for Boeing 737 aircraft are based on technologies from the 1960s and 1970s, while those for the Airbus 320 are a bit more recent, from the 1980s. Now we’ve reached a completely new level with the CS300. Both our passengers and crew will appreciate the benefits of flying in a brand new aircraft that is equipped with the latest technologies. BO