Tartu wants financial assistance to restore international air connections

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Tartu Airport.
Tartu Airport. Source: Tartu Airport

Tartu city officials ask the state whether Tartu could request Tartu International Airlines to perform public service, allowing airlines to receive public funds. This action is intended to ensure Tartu's connectivity to international locations.

According to the Tartu municipal government, a number of airlines have expressed interest in flying from Tartu in the past; however, as the profitability of providing this service was minimal, no airline has flown internationally from Tartu since last year.

As a solution, Mayor of Tartu Urmas Klaas is considering defining flying from Tartu as a service of general interest, imposing a public service obligation on the most suitable international route for the city, and thus granting aid to the airline on terms that comply with the decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in the Altmark case. When the operation of a particular route is defined as a service of general interest the specific rules of public aid would apply.

In a letter to the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, Klaas said, "If compensation is provided for the provision of a service of general interest on terms that comply with the Altmark decision /.../ the state aid rules do not apply."

"European Union member states have actively used this opportunity and have imposed public service obligations on many routes, mostly domestic. However, the imposition of public service obligations on international routes has also become increasingly common in practice," Klaas said.

In Estonia, experience and practice on mandating public service on international lines is lacking.

The mayor of Tartu requests ministry's judgment on whether or not Tartu might implement public service requirement on its international route.

As the development documents of the City of Tartu, Tartu County and the south-Estonian region include the development of Tartu's international air connections as an important objective and as the City of Tartu's budget includes financial resources to support the international route, the City of Tartu considers it justifiable and legally permissible to impose such a public service obligation on the international route, which is most suitable for the city.

"We don't see any obstacles to requesting the connection in this way; rather, Tartu must demonstrate that Tartu requires it," Linnamägi said.

Taivo Linnamägi, head of the aviation department at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, said the state welcomes Tartu's plan.

"We support good connections, which are especially important for the city of Tartu. A part of the action plan needs further analysis, so that Tartu can secure its autumn flight connections. It requires legal analysis and more time," Linnamägi explained.

"Important to us is the correct execution of the Public Transport Act's competence, i.e. Tartu's ability to act as the contracting authority."

He said that Tartu does not really need a state permit and the state does not consider it necessary: "However, we think it is necessary to support Tartu in this paln," Linnamägi said.

"We don't see any obstacles to requesting the connection in this way; rather, Tartu must demonstrate that Tartu requires it," Linnamägi said.

The city of Tartu is in the midst of submitting documents to the European Commission, Jüri Mölder, the Tartu city secretary, said. Regarding the imposition of a public service duty on the international Tartu route, the European Commission will have the last say. 

"We are going to hold an open competition in which airlines will be asked to present us with the amount of the projected city grant they require.
This does not imply that the full subsidy will be paid out; the city budget should not be used to subsidize the airline's excessive profits. European Union guidelines define reasonable profit," Mölder explained.

The 2008 reconstruction of Tartu Airport made the airport's infrastructure suitable for regular passenger flights. Following the airport's renovation, the following direct routes have operated from Tartu: 2009-2011 - airBaltic Tartu-Riga; 2009-2010 - Estonian Air Tartu-Stockholm; 2011-2012 - Estonian Air Tartu-Tallinn; 2011-2015 - Flybe Nordic Tartu-Helsinki; 2015-2020 - Finnair Tartu-Helsinki and 2022 - Finnair Tartu-Helsinki.

This article has been updated to include comments from the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications and the city of Tartu.


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Editor: Mari Peegel, Kristina Kersa

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