The Public Procurement Review Committee (VAKO) has granted Lithuanian airline Transviabaltika's request to lift a 20-year age limit for aircraft in its Tallinn to Saaremaa flight procurement, overruling a proposal from Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Taavi Aas (Centre), as well as the island's municipality, that the Road Administration (Maanteeamet) do just that.
VAKO found that the contractual requirement for aircraft manufactured no earlier than 2000 was not lawful, according to Mart Parind of the authority, adding that the criteria were in his view a means of verifying that the tenderer was expected to perform the contract properly. At the same time, it did not rule out having aircraft age limits in principle.
"At present, the Road Administration has not equipped the service procured in such a way that its proper performance would necessarily require the use of an aircraft of any age rating," Parind said, according to ERR.
VAKO: Age restriction not in principle prohibited
The decision by VAKI forbids the Road Administartion from leaving the age-rating clause in any procurement contract, unless the agency modifies the service provider's obligations, Parind said, adding that it does not mean that no age limit could ever be in place on principle.
"The decision of the appeal committee does not mean, however, that an age rating for aircraft would in principle be unacceptable and could never be set," Parind said.
The VAKO decision states that aircraft manufactured 35 years or more ago are currently in active use within the EU and have all the statutory rights to operate scheduled air services, and are considered safe.
The Road Administration has the right to challenge VAKO's decision in court, but traffic director Meelis Telliskivi said no decision on this has yet been made.
"We are currently analyzing the VAKO decision," Telliskivi told ERR on Thursday.
Transaviabaltika has operated the route between Tallinn Airport and Kuressaare Airport on an extended period, as the previous procurement failed.
That procurement process was first announced in December 2018, set at an estimated €26 million. One concern was the present service, operated by Transviabaltika, offered planes with too small a capacity.
The new round of procurement was announced in September.
"At the moment, the plan is to reach a new agreement starting next May," Telliskivi said.
In October, the Road Administration set a deadline of 20 December for tenders to find a carrier for the route, but this date may also change due to the current dispute.
Regional Jet: It would be an honor to serve tourists with a modern plane
One of the other runners in the earlier procurement process, Estonian airline Nordica and its subsidiary Regional Air, co-owned with Polish carrier LOT, is also rethinking its stance, according to ERR.
As VAKO's decision is recent Nordica communications manager Toomas Uibo also said it will take some time to analyze the dispute.
"It is clear that this is rather a disappointment for us," Uibo said.
"The contested decision is likely to diminish the interest of companies using newer aircraft, since operators of old aircraft in aviation terms are now better placed to win this lower bid," Uibo told ERR Thursday.
However, Uibo added, Regional Jet's overall strategy would not be affected as the link is not a commercially significant procurement and is more a question of regional and national pride, he said.
"It would, rather, be an honor to serve the islanders and tourists flying to Kuressaare with a modern airplane and as an Estonian airline," Uibo said.
Saaremaa is Estonia's largest island, connected by a ferry service, and there are also proposals to build a bridge there. The airport is at Kuressaare, the island's capital.
Editor: Andrew Whyte