Authorities extend Kuressaare flight procurement deadline again

A Jetstream 32 operated by Transaviabaltika.
A Jetstream 32 operated by Transaviabaltika. Source: Jüri Norkroos

The procurement deadline for the Tallinn-Kuressaare flight route to the island of Saaremaa has been extended, to allow time to submit tenders once a long-running current dispute has been resolved. The route has been operated by Lithuanian company Transaviabaltika, despite the terms of the original contract ending last summer; appeals from it and another possible carrier, Nordica subsidiary Regional Jet, have delayed the process for months.

The previous deadline was January 21, but the Road Administration (Maanteeamet), the authority overseeing the procurement process despite its name, has been prolonged to February 5.

"As the appeal committee was to decide on appeals on January 16, that would have left only two working days between the decision the closing date for the submission of tenders," Road Administration's head of procurement Andry Palu told ERR on Tuesday.

"The appeal committee's decision can be appealed within ten days. As a result, without changing the timeline, it would not have been sufficient time to ensure that the appellant could draft and file an interim application with the complaint, and the administrative court have the interim injunction suspended," Palu added.

In fact, if this deadline had not been put back, the Public Procurement Review Committee (VAKO) would have suspended the procurement procedure, Palu noted. 

"To avoid suspension, the contracting authority postponed the deadline for submission of tenders," he explained.

Palu also said that previous case law demonstrates that if the deadline for submitting tenders or requests arrives during an appeal procedure or if the relevant deadline arrives after the expected end of the appeal procedure, but without a reasonable period of time for an appellant to go to the administrative court to challenge the underlying public procurement documents, if necessary, then the suspension of public procurement is justified.

In October 2019, the Road Administration had already set a deadline of December 20 for tenders.

One of the potential participants in the procurement process, Lithuanian airline Transaviabaltika, the current operator of the route, has applied to suspend the procurement and VAKO is to take a decision on this on January 16. 

Long-running dispute

At the end of November, VAKO approved Transaviabaltika's request to lift the 20-year age limit for aircraft in the new procurement. 

However, the Road Administration then decided to change the terms of the flight procurement so that the age limit for airplanes would be legally fixed in the new procurement documents, according to ERR.

In January, the Road Administration sent VAKO its position; the latter did not agree with the request to suspend the procurement.

Another potential bidder for the Kuressaare flight, Regional Jet, has not yet submitted its bid, the company's spokesman, Toomas Uibo, told ERR on Monday.

The original procurement, estimated at €26 million, was announced in December 2018. One factor was that Transaviabaltika's 19-seater Let L-410 Turbolet planes were too small, and, after the Lithuanian firm saw its contract initially renewed, this was reversed with the decision to award the contract to Regional Air/Nordica instead, only for this to be canceled as well.

Transaviabaltika continued operating the route under its original contract to June 1, and had offered to up its frequency of flights as a way to alleviate the limited places available.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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