Tartu plans public tender to restore international air links

Tartu Airport.
Tartu Airport. Source: Tartu Airport.

As of the end of October, Finnish airline Finnair will cease operating its Tartu-Helsinki route. In order to ensure that people can continue to fly to Europe from the airport, which is located on the outskirts of Tartu, the city government plans to launch a public tender to restore international air connections.

When Finnair announced last month that it would suspend flights from Tartu from the end of October, the Tartu municipality started to think about ways to guarantee international flights continue to operate from the university town. The suggestion to organize public procurement procedure has now been put forward as a possible option.

"International air connections are especially important to us, particularly so that we can have a direct connection to an airport, from which we can then fly as far as possible. Helsinki, with its more than 40 onward connections, has been a reasonable gateway for Tartu," said Tartu Mayor Urmas Klaas (Reform).

"We can see how such a connection would not be feasible under current market conditions, and that is why the city government has also decided that a public tender, with a public service obligation, should be organized."

The aim is to provide flights to a single destination, with five European capital cities under consideration, Klaas said.

"There are airports close to us with good connections, such as Riga, Helsinki and Stockholm. We are also not ruling out Copenhagen or Warsaw at this stage of the process as this will also allow more airlines to bid and participate in this tender," Klaas explained.

As a partner in the project, Tallinn Airport is also involved in the process, advising the City of Tartu on, among other issues, the conditions that potential carriers and destinations are required to meet. Currently, flights from Tartu must operate six days a week. In terms of flight times, there is also a need for a timetable that takes passengers from Tartu to the chosen international airport in the morning and bring people back to the university city from the same airport in the evening. Thus, similar to the situation before the coronavirus pandemic, pre-covid, both the plane and crew would, in all likelihood, stay overnight in Tartu.

Klaas said that the tendering process is linked to a rather complex set of EU rules. Based on the information currently available to the city administration, flying from Tartu will be defined as a service of general interest with a public service obligation established on the route.

"In recent years, after covid, Finnair was, and would have been, subsidized by other airlines going through Tallinn Airport, as well as airport charges. However, in the current situation, yes, we will procure frequency and times based on our needs."

Under the draft, financial support for the airline which ultimately wins the tender, will be granted in line with the Altmark judgment. The fundamental principle of the Altmark judgement is, that a public service is assured at the lowest possible cost, while also accounting for a reasonable profit margin.

In order to proceed with the tender, the draft must first be approved by the Tartu City Council, which is set to discuss the matter this Thursday. Tartu Municipality aims to restore international flights from Tartu airport next spring.

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Editor: Michael Cole

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