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Tallinn Airport loses 90 percent of flights in wake of coronavirus

Tallinn Airport has seen a 90 percent drop in flights since the coronavirus pandemic started, with a further fall likely.
Tallinn Airport has seen a 90 percent drop in flights since the coronavirus pandemic started, with a further fall likely. Source: Sander Koit/ERR

Whereas a month ago, the daily flight volume at Tallinn's Lennart Meri Airport, the principal airport in the country, stood at 90 scheduled arrivals and departures combined, the total on Monday stands at eight flights, four arrivals and four departures. This figure is likely to fall further as airlines temporarily bring their scheduled connections with Tallinn to an end this week.

Three of the scheduled arrivals are operated by Ryanair, departing from London, Weeze (Germany) and Edinburgh, with the other a Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt. These four flights will make the return journey.

Turkish Airlines is making its last scheduled flight to Istanbul this week as well, ERR's online news in Estonian reports.

Eero Pärgmäe, Commercial Director at Tallinn Airport, says that over the last ten days, flight plans have been changed several times a day, so that making exact predictions on what flights will take place through to the end of this week is not set in stone.

There are four today, there may be one [regular line] by the end of the week," Pärgmäe said.

Pärgmäe said that Ryanair is to halt its Tallinn from March 25 to April 8, and Turkish Airlines from March 27 to April 16. 

Lufthansa is the only carrier relatively certain to continue its service, and Easyjet has said it will resume flights next week, though things can change very quickly, Pärgamäe noted.

Pärgmäe was, however, optimistic about airlines' plan to re-open routes in early or mid-April.

"I think those deadlines have to be prolonged. These are optimistic deadlines. While airlines would like to start flying right away, their readiness to take off immediately should any market open somewhere is there. Opening up markets will depend on whether the virus has been confined or not, and whether or not countries are easing their quarantine regimes," Pärgmäe explained.

Second quarter results 'disappointing'

A month ago, Tallinn Airport averaged 40-45 arrivals a day, the same number as departures, meaning up to 90 flights a day. As noted, volume has fallen by more than 90 percent, Pärgmäe said, having an impact on staff workloads.

Pärgmäe said that efforts have been made to divide workloads so that there was something for everyone, and nobody has been sent home for the entire time. However, since the airport's work sections are so diverse, it is not possible to pinpoint any average temporary workload, he said.

"We use shift work. If, for example, people used to be on shift work every other day, maybe now only once or twice a week. We can also combine working hours. You can't say that one hundred percent of the staff is at home, or one hundred percent at work. We're trying to find the best solutions for everyone," he said.

"When more than 90 percent of aviation is down, we obviously don't need that amount of staff. It's also very difficult to predict when and to what extent flights will come back. At the same time, we need a high-quality workforce."

Tallinn Airport will also apply for the Unemployment Insurance Fund (Töötukassa) assistance package as well, Pärgamäe said. The package is aimed solely at employees and businesses hit directly by the coronavirus pandemic.

"Both the aviation and tourism sectors are the first to qualify for this support measure," Pärgmäe said, noting the large decline in work volume and turnover. Tallinn Airport employs over 600 people.

As to predicting the economic future, this remained difficult, Pärgamäe said.

"As the crisis started at the end of the first quarter of 2020, the first quarter economic results are still quite good, but the second quarter results are disappointing and the first half of the year will also have a clear negative sign, Pärgmäe said.

"With more than 90 percent of the business going down, and 95 percent soon, it is clear that no money will be coming in," he added.

The management at Tallinn Airport is currently reviewing client contracts one by one, he said. The clientele is very diverse, from commerce to aviation. Those businesses that continue to receive a service at the airport - for example, stores that use rental space - will have to pay for that service. Airlines which are down, however, will not have to pay any fixed fee to the airport.

Just two retail points kept open at Airport

In the event of the disappearance of passengers, shops, cafes and a pharmacy have stopped working within the closed area (i.e. beyond security check-in), with vending machines being now the only refreshments option open to the few travelers passing through the airport's portals. Efforts are being made to keep the last sales outlets open for some time, Pärgamäe added.

"We are trying to keep the R-kiosk and Take Off cafe open until the last minute. With the volume of trips being so low, it is impossible to avoid the vending machine from remaining in a closed area for a while," Pärgmäe said.

 "Closing anything is not a nice decision, but if there are no customers, it is also not a good idea to keep these open."

Tallinn Airport staff themselves have not escaped coronavirus, with two cases having been confirmed among the; one a shop assistant and the other is a G4S security officer, Pärgamäe said, adding that neither of these were related to any passenger transmission and had been caught on Saaremaa, one of the most affected areas.

"There are no known cases of coronavirus being transferred a passenger to an employee. All cases that have occurred have been related to Saaremaa," Pärgmäe said.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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