A smarter way to fly
Smartlynx Airlines was founded in 1992. Originally known as Latcharter Airlines it was based in Riga, Latvia and consisted of four professional pilots and an experienced engineer. It became the first airline to offer package holidays from Riga as well as being able to provide government, military and executive charter flights. Since then it has expanded to the point where it has a fleet comprising of 14 Airbus aircraft (13 A320 and one A321).
In 2016, the company was sold to the Dutch Investment firm Tripod Investment Management, something that CEO Zygimantas Surintas feels was crucial in Smartlynx’s development: “This offered us broader financial opportunities, and we feel the strong support from the investor has meant we can feel safer about the future and come up with more ambitious goals.” Smartlynx has also benefited from long term partnerships with Thomas Cook and EasyJet. In the case of the former Smartlynx has been in a long term ACMI partnership with Thomas Cook since 2012 and in 2017 it maintained this with a new wet lease agreement including the lease of two A320 aircraft as well as a similar agreement with EasyJet. The company has also been working in collaboration with Magnetic MRO on numerous services including aircraft base maintenance, painting and sourcing landing gear units.
This development has seen increased demand from passengers: “In 2015 it reached 1.6 million and in 2016 1.9 million. We expect this trend to continue – the year has not yet ended but we have already seen the total number reaching 2.2 million in October,” Zygimantas states. He believes that this is down to adapting to consumer demand. “The reason for this is the implementation of the company’s development strategy: opening of new routes and destinations for charter flights from/to Riga, Tallinn, Paris and Copenhagen, as well as strengthening of co-operation with our ACMI partners.”
Another area where Smartlynx has developed a competitive edge is in the depth and diversity of its crew who are from 17 different nations, are multi-lingual and trained to IOSA and EASA standards. Furthermore, the average experience of the company’s captains is over 53,000 block hours with over 1900 block hours for First Officers. The company has its own approved pilot training company called SmartLynx ATO and this is part of an overall programme ensuring that new crew members as well as experienced crew can receive ongoing training, something that is considered crucial to the service it provides: “The company’s key goal is the comfort and safety of its passengers which is why we have strict quality and security standards,” Zygimantas elaborates.
On top of this the company also reported a net turnover of 108.4 million euros in 2016, an increase of 18 per cent on the previous year: “There is an increasing demand for air transport, which suggests that the market has recovered from the economic crisis. People’s financial situation has stabilised and their travel habits have returned to the pre-crisis level. We intend to take full advantage of this trend,” Zygimantas says.
On the 31st March Smartlynx celebrated its 25th anniversary. The company has proven to be a long-term success despite challenging times – of the nine private companies that were established in Latvia around the same time only Smartlynx has managed not only to survive but crucially continue to thrive and build on its success by modernising its fleet and maintaining high standards.
Indeed, the company has established itself as Latvia’s second largest air carrier, among the top ten service exporters in the country as well as the leading ACMI and charter provider in the EU. Zygimantas is under no illusions as to how it managed to achieve this position and why this is just the start: “First of all it is the people – who began this complex business, who ensured its further development into an international company and bringing in advanced know-how. Each and every one has contributed to our anniversary celebration and we can’t stress enough the significance of every Smartlynx team member. But as significant as this anniversary is it is only a milestone and our work continues,” he clarifies.
Zygimantas has a clear vision as to how Smartlynx will continue to build on what it has already achieved: “In Europe our business is subject to seasonal shifts and the market is most active from May until October. For that reason, it is important for us to enter markets that have no seasonality and that means we will continue to seriously develop our operations outside of Europe, particularly in Asia,” he outlines. Smartlynx has begun the process of expansion including a base in Vietnam as well as plans to fly to destinations such as Cambodia, the Philippines and Malaysia. The company is not solely focused on increasing its presence into Asia as it is also looking into offering flights from Canada to Latin America and the Caribbean islands.
In short Smartlynx has had to work hard to achieve its current position despite a lot of problems that other businesses in their area have faced. While challenges remain if the company continues to follow the example of Zygimantas and the crew then it is likely that Smartlynx will build on its success for some time to come.
Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year
Fleet consists of 13 Airbus A320 aircraft and one Airbus 321 aircraft
Passenger numbers increased from 1.6m in 2015 to 1.9m in 2016