Baltia Air Lines, the first new U.S. airline in nine years to obtain international route rights, will launch service to the Commonwealth of Independent States on June 15, company officials said.
The announcement ends months of uncertainty that centered on Baltia's difficulties in securing adequate start-up capital.Baltia, based in New York, will operate five weekly non-stop flights linking New York and St. Petersburg, and four between New York and Riga, Latvia. Kiev, Ukraine, will be served three times a week from Riga.
Baltia will not begin operating under its regular schedules until the end of June, said Jonathan Hill, a company spokesman. Minsk, Belarus and Tbilisi, Georgia, also will be served from Riga but will not join the network until August, Mr. Hill said.
Baltia was to begin service last October, but turmoil in the former Soviet Union in the wake of last summer's failed coup gave potential investors cold feet. The Department of Transportation subsequently ordered a six-month delay for the Baltia start-up, saying events in the country "created an uncertain market" for passenger and cargo travel.
The new April 1 deadline passed without service as Baltia officials scrambled to obtain the $30 million in capital needed to cover the costs of start-up and the first months of operation.
Mr. Hill declined comment on the financing arrangement, other than to say the funds are "on line" and that "it's a matter of dotting the 'I's' and crossing the 'T's.' "
Baltia will use a Boeing 767-200 aircraft on the trans-Atlantic leg of the operation and a smaller Boeing 737 on flights within the commonwealth. The 767 model holds roughly 40,000 pounds of freight in the bellyhold deck.
While the service will focus on passenger travel, executives working with Baltia predict cargo revenue will increase dramatically once the commonwealth gets on its feet and investment pours in from the United States, Europe and Asia.
Bob Bushman, president of Transportation Management Group, a Raleigh, N.C., company serving as Baltia's U.S. cargo sales agent, predicted Baltia will be moving 3.8 million pounds a year by 1998, compared with 445,000 in the first year. The 1998 figure is twice the volume the group projected in October.
"I think we're more optimistic than we were" before the coup, Mr. Bushman said. "The situation over there is settling down, and we expect an increase in the flow of foreign investment from U.S. companies and from Europe."
Interest in commonwealth-related air cargo activity has picked up since Aeroflot Airlines announced earlier this year that it would create a global cargo network with a U.S. hub in Columbus, Ohio.