Gerhard Ramcke is the chief pilot at airBaltic, a young airline based in Latvia but also serving neighbouring Estonia and Lithuania. airBaltic is unusual in that it has committed to becoming an exclusively A220 carrier, with plans to be operating 50 of the Airbus type by 2024. Capt Ramcke combines flying with management duties, and explains how, with plans to add long-haul routes such as Riga-Dubai, the airline is confident it can rapidly steer a course out of the crisis
Like for many others, I developed that dream as a boy, that once I grew up I wanted to pilot a big plane. I had been taken away by an experience as a nine-year old, when I was allowed to spend a significant portion of a flight to Australia on the jump-seat with the pilots.
Taking a different career path after school and university at first, I never lost that passion and modularly built up my licenses. I was a late starter in this industry, with airBaltic being my first airline, where I started in 2005 as a first officer on the Boeing 737.
As the chief pilot of airBaltic, my job is to lead the pilot division. In this position, I need to ensure that our pilots have at hand what it takes for them to safely and efficiently conduct our flights. At the same time, the well-being of the individual pilot, as well as their personal performance and development are key to a high level performance of our flight operations overall. Here, line flying is a very important tool to have both that insight into the daily operations and at the same time the individual contact to the pilots, which is needed to support them in their aim for development and growth.
Getting the balance right when it comes to desk and flight deck duties? Well, that depends on who you ask, me as a pilot or the chief pilot. As I’m still passionate about going out flying, I’d love to do that much more. But overall, it works well and the issues dictate the balance. I guess the general outcome would be somewhat of a 50/50 mix.
Recognising the potential of this airline and at the same time things that could be done better, I wanted to be a part of the team, accelerating the airline to where it is today. Taking responsibility and at the same time being able to develop things and make decisions has been always attractive to me. Seeing success and satisfaction is very rewarding.
Being a part of the flight operations management, it is vital to conduct regular line flights. Once you step into other managerial positions in an airline, it is still a big advantage to have that insight into the daily operations. Our CEO and COO are both rated on the Airbus A220 and fly on a regular basis.
When it comes to picking up a managerial position, pilots normally already have a great set of abilities. It takes good communication skills, decision-making and problem solving abilities, which pilots need to apply to their job as well. However, although we pilots are trained to make, evaluate and potentially alter decisions, the ability to apply big picture thinking beyond the specific flight we are operating is unfortunately not always one of our strongest points, but it is essential to take managerial tasks. I do believe that excellent human or interpersonal skills are absolute key.
airBaltic is the global launch operator of the longer, -300 version of the Airbus A220. We have been involved with the aircraft well before the entry into service and it has been an exciting experience. The aircraft has been performing excellently with a high reliability from the very beginning.
To see a brand new development emerge in the single-aisle market, with a fresh and modern design philosophy, equipped with the most modern technology available, and then to get your hands on it from the very beginning, that’s surely what any airline pilot would wish for. We pilots at airBaltic were privileged to find ourselves at the forefront of those operating this brand new, clean sheet design. You do recognize that pilots had their say when it came to designing the flight deck. It is intuitive, delivers lots of pilot support, without applying too much automation, and it has upmarket features you’d normally find in business jets.
As an airline, we are very satisfied with the A220 and our passengers love it. Space for oneself and the luggage, low noise and that fresh and modern appearance is what the passengers really like. Even with the A220’s state of the art design and features, any airplane is only as good as the way the airline operates it and provides the service on board. At airBaltic we got it just right.
Most of the key challenges for the aviation industry are obvious, like the lack of travel opportunities and with it the absence of passengers, paired with high ongoing costs. At airBaltic we did recognize the necessity to adjust the business plan early and consequently implemented the single fleet strategy with the Airbus A220. However, as it was clear that the pandemic would not just let us return to normal after a year, we had to furlough a considerable amount of staff, including pilots. From that moment, we have focused on having those pilots re-join the airline as soon as possible. We keep in touch with them, and our CEO and COO recently conducted a live online briefing, to inform them about the company situation and our rehiring outlooks.
The extremely low amount of flights brought challenges, like how to keep pilots not only current and proficient, but to ensure that they have sufficient ‘hands-on’ experience. We have conducted additional simulator sessions, workshops and courses. As these times have meant we have seen very few opportunities to meet and exchange on a personal level, the personal well-being of the pilots has been our concern and we have conducted additional personal talks with all of them. Although most took place online, it was good to have those occasions to meet and talk.
Combined with daily routines, this has kept me and the team pretty busy over this time. Travel by air is picking up and at airBaltic we are focused on operating those 50 Airbus A220s in the future and see not only those former colleagues re-joining, but to even welcome new pilots and employees.
airBaltic offers pilots two roster options: FLEX and FIX. With FLEX, the roster is variable, but pilots can bid for their time off, working hours, and flights. Under FIX, pilots have a foreseeable schedule with a five on/four off/five on/three off pattern. The roster for each month is published 14 days before the start of the next month.
Retirement age is 65.
To become a captain, pilots must have 4,000 total flying hours, with 2,000 h on an CS-25 aircraft, under EASA regulations.
airBaltic provides accident insurance from day one; Latvian health insurance after a three-month probation, with the possibility to purchase an upgrade to international cover, and for family members; and loss of licence insurance after one year of employment.
The airline also covers all costs of training, validation, medical checks and visas, while type rating training costs are bonded for three years.
welcome aboard the new airside
We took our community to the next level with an elevated look, innovative features, and new tools.