As one of airBaltic's representatives told me, while we were looking, at the fairy-tale-like snowy rooftops of the old city of Riga from the top floor of Riga's highest building "it feels like Christmas has arrived early for us this year".
She was alluding to the "Christmas present" that had just arrived from a northerly direction, the shiny new aircraft that we had had the chance to admire the evening before at a large scale celebratory event, that gathered over 2,000 guests, including the president of Latvia.
The first operational Bombardier CS300 was unveiled on December 1st amidst great fanfare and we had the privilege of getting onboard, not only during its static display at the unveiling event, but also for a demonstration flight for airBaltic employees and guests.
airBaltic has placed great hopes on the CS300. The Latvian airline, that is switching to an all-Bombardier fleet, has highlighted the range and economics (and possibly a significant discount for being the launch customer too!) of the type as very important for the type of network development that it has in mind.
The CS300 will make feasible the launch of new longer range routes out of Riga and into the Middle East (Abu Dhabi was touted as a possible upcoming destination), Russia and other far-flung destinations.
"It has some of the advantages of a wide-body airliner but with narrow body economics" was one of the lines that was heard during the Q&A session with the airline and Bombardier's senior executives.
The transition from Boeing 737 Classic (-300 and -500 series) to CS300 is going to be gradual, in fact airBaltic is exercising purchase rights on some of the leased Boeing 737s it currently operates, even if they are going to eventually be pulled out of service. As Martin Gauss, airBaltic's CEO stated, "if the price is right, it makes perfect sense from a financial point of view".
One of the highlights of the trip was, of course, flying on the CS300. This was a Riga to Riga special flight, but with full passage (upon invitation) and all the trappings of a regular commercial flight.
After de-icing (it was really cold and snowy in Riga!) we took off for an hour and a half overflying the Latvia airspace. It was too dark outside to see much of the landscape, but there was plenty onboard to keep us busy and entertained.
In addition to the video, a compilation of some of the best moments of the CS300 presentation and demonstration flight that I have prepared for the friends at AirInsight, next are some pictures that will get you a feel of how is it like to fly on the CS300.
This is something that regular passengers can already experience, since airBaltic just started regular CS300 operations, with a flight from Riga to Amsterdam on 14th December.
As the airline gets more of the type (a second CS300 was expected to arrive before the end of this year) and it deploys it on many other routes, not only to and from Riga, but also from Vilnius and Tallinn, where airBaltic is developing secondary bases, bringing it closer to the goal of being a truly pan-Baltic operator.
If interested in the CS300 and its entry into service with airBaltic you may want to check also this piece I wrote for AirInsight...