Latvia's airBaltic appoints German as new boss

21st October 2011, Comments 0 comments

Latvian flag-carrier airBaltic announced Friday that German Martin Gauss would take over as chief executive from November 1, replacing fellow countryman Bertolt Flick who quit as part of a salvage deal.

Between April 2009 and May 2011, Gauss was CEO of Hungarian carrier Malev.

In a statement released Friday he said airBaltic had "a very strong brand".

"It will be my task to set up clear structures which are missing at present. I will introduce corporate governance in order to reach a financially positive airline operation," he added.

The airline has been in a state of turmoil for months following a wide-ranging dispute between Flick, whose offshore company Baltic Aviation System is its main minority shareholder in airBaltic, and the Latvian state which holds 52 percent of the carrier.

Flick stepped down on October 4 as one of the conditions of an agreement for the government to contribute to a 140-million-euro ($192-million) boost to airBaltic's share capital to ensure its future.

The government said the aim was to return airBaltic to profit by 2013 and that the airline could be floated on the stock exchange the following year.

After years as one of the most prominent businessmen in the Baltic states, Flick's star waned when he was linked to a corruption investigation involving Latvia's former transport minister Ainars Slesers.

Flick accused the Latvian government of underhand negotiating methods, while speculation in the press centred on the complex and opaque ownership structure of Flick's own holding in the company.

In September the row came to a head when Latvian President Andris Berzins was stranded in Brussels when his flight was among several cancelled at short notice.

Flick slammed state reluctance to hand over much-needed funding, while the government demanded an audit of company accounts amid claims that airBaltic lost 47 million euros in 2010.

The airline was created in 1995, four years after Latvia won independence from the crumbling Soviet Union.

Flick had advised the government then on establishing airBaltic, and was chairman of its board until 2002, when he was named chief executive.

Since Latvia joined the European Union in 2004, airBaltic has won a reputation as a low-cost regional force, flying both tourists and thousands of Latvian migrants back and forth to the nation of 2.2 million.

With 34 aircraft, it also offers direct flights out of the neighbouring Baltic republics of Estonia and Lithuania and covers some domestic routes in Finland.

© 2011 AFP

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