AirBaltic CEO Martin Gauss sees the newly launched Airbus A321XLR as an ideal aircraft for transatlantic operations from the airline’s Baltic home market, although airBaltic’s own short-haul focus remains unchanged.

Airbus launched the A321XLR on the first day of the 2019 Paris Air Show, attracting orders and conversions from several customers, including Air Lease Corp., Philippine LCC Cebu Pacific, Indigo Partners, International Airlines Group (IAG) and Australian flag carrier Qantas.

Speaking to ATW on the sidelines of the show, Gauss said the A321XLR launch was a “very interesting development,” as it could be the step-change needed to launch long-haul flights from the Baltics.

“From our perspective, it puts our main Riga hub in a different place, because this aircraft can go from Riga or the other Baltic capitals to cities in the US. For us, it’s an interesting development because—in a couple of years’ time when we have done our development—that might be the right thing to come.”

Despite the opportunity, Gauss stressed that his main focus continues to be short-haul network development from the Baltics and the airline’s transition to an all-A220 fleet.

“I’m a very strong believer that there will be direct long-haul flights coming from the Baltic capitals. It is an area with 6 million people, the Baltics, and we have zero long haul today. I think it’s a natural development, but we haven’t changed our position.”

AirBaltic has previously evaluated the business plan for long-haul flights. However, in the past, Gauss said it did not make sense for airBaltic’s own business. Instead, he was optimistic that another airline would take this opportunity and partner with airBaltic on short-haul feeder services.

The Riga-based airline is transitioning to an all A220-300 fleet. To date, airBaltic has 19 A220-300s in service, with another three scheduled to arrive in 2019, four more in 2020 and 12 in 2021. “We are very happy with the A220, which is really performing and forms the backbone of our operation now,” Gauss said.

Victoria Moores