The Estonian Transport Administration has repealed decisions made in the Kärdla air link tender, meaning it remains unclear whether passengers will have a 19 or 33-seater plane at their service in the future.
The Transport Administration was still adamant in early January when it said the Tallinn-Kärdla air link will be serviced by the 33-seater plane of Nyx Air. While recent flights operator Transaviabaltica and newcomer OÜ Diamond Sky were willing to settle for less money, their 19-passenger planes were left aside.
Kati Tamtik, head of the agency's mobility planning department, said the administration doubted whether the Jetstream 32 would be capable of landing at the Kärdla Airport in difficult weather conditions. Especially when wind conditions dictate an approach from land that leaves the runway shorter.
The matter is complicated by the fact that Jetstream 32 aircraft currently service the Kärdla link. Tamtik said that the rules have changed since then, while it remains unclear whether the change in question happened in the summer of 2021 or 2022. The Transport Administration signed the recent contract with Transaviabaltica a little over six months ago.
The agency's spokesperson said that service continuity is a priority, meaning that aircraft will have to be able to land in less than ideal weather. And this includes a plane carrying the maximum number of passengers and everyone's luggage.
"Another question is whether the aircraft can fit all passengers bound for Hiiumaa," she added.
New data might open door for 19-seaters
The Transport Administration pointed to the same concerns earlier in January when Lithuanian carrier Transaviabaltica and OÜ Diamond Sky contested the tender result after being left out. The former then presented new data about Jetstream 32 aircraft, saying that the initial data sets included inaccuracies and that new data suggests the Jetstream 32 is suitable for the Kärdla link.
It is in this liht that the Transport Administration decided to repeal its previous decisions. The tender process is back to square one, with the agency weighing bids in terms of suitability again.
Nyx Air CEO Jaanus Ojamets said that the company is preparing to take over the service from January 28 irrespective of future decisions, adding that while the administration is free to reconsider, its decision is incomprehensible.
"The new regulations the agency is referring to have been in effect for 18 months," Ojamets said.
Nyx Air asked for €5,000 for a single round trip between Tallinn and the capital of the island of Hiiumaa, Transaviabaltica around €4,300 and OÜ Diamond Sky under €4,000. However, there is a chance the cheapest bid will not win out.
"Based on information we've received, we suspect OÜ Diamond Sky might not have the plane," Kati Tamtik said.
Diamond Sky registered for the tender a plane currently rented by Transaviabaltica. While Diamons Sky had agreed to purchase the aircraft from its owner, the Lithuanian airline then learned of this development and took the plane's owner to court.
The plane cannot be flown for the duration of the action, meaning that Diamond Sky cannot use it to service the Kärdla air link. Executive manager Madis Vanaselja described the agency's requirement of the bid including a specific plane's serial number to be insensible.
Vanaselja also said that there are other planes on the market, and the dispute would not ground the company were it to win the tender.
"We would like to sign the tender contract before coming up with the serial number of potential aircraft we could use," Vanaselja said.
Administration: The air link will not disappear
Kati Tamtik said the dispute could take a fair bit of time to resolve. "We suspect we might not be able to sign the contract by the time the new operator is supposed to take over."
Tamtik assured ERR that the air link will be retained after January 28 even if this proves the case. The agency has asked the market participants for proposals as to the amount of a fee to cover to interim period and will soon decide who will keep flying to and from Kärdla.
The rules are a little looser for a temporary direct service contract. "Because technical parameters of aircraft became an obstacle in the full tender, we do not expect the same kind of continuity of service in the direct contract. To facilitate existing bidders," Tamtik said.
Editor: Mirjam Mäekivi, Marcus Turovski