Low-cost Irish carrier Ryanair has not slammed the door on Estonia, Minister for Economic Affairs and Communications Riina Sikkut (SDE) says, following news that the airline was ending its association with Tallinn Airport after the latter upped its fees by 33 percent.
Appearing on ETV morning show "Terevisioon" Monday, Sikkut said: "Yes, airport fees must be competitive."
"But the company (Ryanair-ed.) decided to close its less profitable routes. As a citizen, it also seems strange for me to see how the destinations of direct flights are constantly changing," she continued.
"However, this goal has not gone anywhere, meaning that we as a country get connections to strategically important places and have as many direct flights as possible," she went on.
Tallinn Airport has not raised its fees for 14 years, Sikkut added. If further investment is to go into the airport, a decision on this would have been needed sooner or later.
"As minister of the economy, the most important task for me is to balance the short and long term. In the short term, of course, it is a pity that, for example, flights to Billund (in Denmark-ed.) and Nuremberg are halted. But looking at the long term, the airport has not raised its fees for 14 years."
"If the forecast is for aviation activities to make a loss, then it is not viable to, for instance, make investments in automatic gates, which would mean travelers would no longer have to take out their laptops and liquids [for airport inspection]," the minister continued.
On whether it makes sense to raise airport fees and invest in modern solutions, if this leads to a situation where airlines close routes, Sikkut answered that neither the airport nor the sate is really faced with the luxury of such options.
A price hike of €3 per passenger is not a red flag for her, Sikkut added.
"Neither did Ryanair slam the door behind its back and leave Estonia," she went on.
Sikkut said there was no certainty that Ryanair or other low-cost carriers would have continued to serve Tallinn even with the continuation of lower fees, noting that these companies carry out effective optimization of their services and levy charges on passengers at each stage.
"The question is how much we as a country can subsidize this in order to meet the expectations of certain airlines," the minister said.
Tallinn Airport's fees are currently not high and will not be high in future either, she said, though in the interests of investment, they cannot be set at zero.
Taavi Aas (Center), Sikkut's predecessor as Minister of Economic Affairs and Communications, said that a rise in fees charged by Tallinn Airport would have been avoidable if the state had granted compensation to companies in the situation of soaring energy prices.
ERR Latvia correspondent: Ryanair's Riga Airport market share tripled in three years
ERR's Latvia correspondent, Ragnar Kond, reported that flight numbers and destinations from Riga Airport are meanwhile set to rise in summer.
Ryanair's market share there has tripled in three years, to 31 percent, while Latvia's national carrier, Air Baltic, as seen its share fall to 51 percent at its home airport.
Riga Airport is intentionally aiming to keep its prices low, Kond reported, and not only Ryanair but also Finnair and other carriers have shown an increased interest in flying from the Latvian capital.
Airport fee hikes are harder to put in place in Latvia, it is reported, since these have to be approved at government level.
While some fees, for instance for catering to people with disabilities, have risen at Riga Airport, a 30 percent rise a la Tallinn Airport is not in the plan, Laura Kulakova, the airport's communications chief, said.
Air Baltic's CEO Margin Gauss meanwhile said that it will continue to serve Tallinn Airport also despite the tariff hike, adding that while rising costs were unfortunate, the phenomenon could be observed across Europe.
Tallinn Airport is definitely not among the most expensive in Europe in terms of price level, but flying from Riga is cheaper than from Tallinn, for Air Baltic, because Riga is home to its center.
The costs have not been passed on to higher ticket prices either, he added.
Air Baltic offers 16 direct destinations from Tallinn, though far more via Riga, which is much more of a hub, he added.
Ryanair announced Friday that its closure of half-a-dozen routes from Tallinn were directly the result of the airport hiking its fees by 33 percent.
Ryanair has also lodged a complaint with the Competition Authority challenging the decision wich, Minister Sikkut said, the Competition Authority will make a decision on by the end of April.
Riga Airport was also the market leader in the Baltics last year, accounting for 40 percent of both passenger and cargo traffic in the region. It connected to 112 destinations last year.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Urmet Kook, Merili Nael