Pre-pandemic flight volumes might not be reached for another three or four years, Estonia's air traffic control authority says. The authority has had to lay off 20 percent of its staff since the coronavirus crisis bgan. Its board chair says initial forecasts on flight recovery volumes exiting the peak of the pandemic had been too optimistic, and at present volumes are around the same as they were 20 years ago.
Air traffic control board chair Ivar Värk said: "When we were still making crisis plans in the first few weeks of the crisis, we thought that traffic might recover to 75-80 percent by year end, compared with the same time in 2019. Now, however, it would be optimistic if we reach 65 percent. Things haven't been as positive as we thought."
In terms of numbers, there are around one third the number of commercial planes flying over Estonia at present compared with the same time last year.
"Yesterday (Thursday, July 30 – ed.), 240 aircraft flew via Estonian airspace. The average for July was 247 planes. To put that into perspective, at the same time last year, the number stood at around 730. Figures are still relatively small compared to last year."
In terms of serviced aircraft, April this year stood at a little over 4,000 planes – the same level as in 1995. In April 2019, Lennuliiklusteeninduse AS serviced approximately 20,000 aircraft. There has been a certain amount of recovery since then Värk said, and the volume of planes being serviced stands at around the same as it would have done 20 years ago.
At the start of 2020 air traffic control (Lennuliiklusteeninduse AS) employed 225 people. Since then, the figure has fallen to 184.
As to when pre-crisis levels might be reached, Värk put this in terms of years.
"I would rather not say that this crisis is still over in terms of aviation. We have done all our calculations on the basis that traffic might return to pre-crisis levels in maybe three or four years, not earlier."
Värk said that regardless of the volume of flights, air traffic control's main taask was to ensure air traffic safety at all times.
Meanwhile, Värk said, while air traffic volumes as a whole in Europe have picked up as forecast, Estonia's have not, mainly because of Estonia's location, he said, as a hub between Russia and western Europe, as well as between the Middle East and the U.S., and China and Finland. None of these routes have seen recovery yet due to ongoing coronavirus travel restrictions, he said.
Editor: Andrew Whyte