The Global Competitiveness Report 2013-2014 places Estonia 100th (out of 144 countries) in terms of the quality of its air transport infrastructure. Finland is fifth in the world in this category. Why is Estonia lagging behind?
Viktor Trasberg, associate professor of economics at the University of Tartu, told ERR radio that it is the recently refurbished but currently underperforming Tartu Airport that should be developed to its full potential.
At the moment Tartu Airport serves 10 flights per week and an estimated 6,000 passengers per month. Tallinn Lennart Meri Airport serves around 200,000 people in the same period.
The difference is disproportionate considering that about half a million people live within a 150-kilometer radius of Tartu Airport, most of whom have better access to Tartu than to Tallinn.
"So Tartu definitely has a sufficient number of potential passengers to support a well-functioning regional airport. We are not talking about a large transit center but a regional one that could offer transfers to some bigger airport with a reasonable array of connecting flights," Trasberg said and added that the possible reasons behind Tartu's current failure are many and varied.
"A potential solution could be the creation of a special unit that would handle aviation in Tartu on a daily basis. This unit would have two different tasks. First, to support air traffic with necessary resources through both private financing and EU funds. Secondly, to introduce and market the opportunities that Tartu provides," he said.
The unit would include representatives from Tartu City Council and those companies and institutions that supervise and monitor the airport's financial decision. Trasberg said that although the city of Tartu has to make a financial contribution if it wants its airport to function properly, its success is of economic and social significance to the whole country.
"For decades business enterprise and population have become concentrated around Tallinn. The existence of functioning international air traffic in central and southern Estonia would balance this phenomenon and help to debunk the stereotype that international business development is possible in Tallinn alone," he said, adding that regular flights to Tartu would also mean savings for local businesses and organizations, less strain on the roads and thus reduced costs on maintenance.