Flights between Tartu and Helsinki will not resume before fall

Tartu Airport.
Tartu Airport. Source: Tartu Airport

Last October, Tartu City Council gave the go ahead for a public tender to find a company, which will provide flight services from Tartu Airport to a single European destination. While the original idea was to restore flights between Tartu and Helsinki by this spring, the complicated tendering process means they will not be available before the fall.

The idea is, that flying from Tartu will be defined as being a service of public interest. As a result, the route would be subject to a public service obligation. In practice, that means the city will be able to determine how often and at what times flights from Tartu have to be provided. However, imposing the public service obligation may prove controversial and so the parties involved are currently working to find the best way forward. This is one of the reasons why the reopening of flights from Tartu Airport has been delayed.

Tartu City Secretary Jüri Mölder said, that as things stand, flights from Tartu to Helsinki will resume in October.

"We have communicated with the Ministry of Transport and Communications and reached the common understanding that we should still go ahead with this process on the basis of the Public Transport Act, even though the Council of Europe and (European) parliamentary regulation, which regulates the imposition of public service obligations for air transport would be directly applicable in Estonia as well. This would also give local authorities the opportunity to introduce this public service obligation," Mölder said.

However, to avoid any disputes, Mölder said, it would still be sensible to proceed on the basis of the Public Transport Act.

"The Public Transport Act allows for this public service to be provided by the Tartu County Public Transport Center (TÜTK) via an administrative contract. Last Wednesday I attended the general meeting of the Tartu County Public Transport Center and the members of the TÜTK also supported this plan, so we are moving ahead with this idea."

In simple terms, the law allows operations that were originally intended to be carried out solely in the name of, and with the support from, the City of Tartu to be carried out in cooperation with the TÜTK. An amendment to the management contract is currently being prepared, as is a procurement document. The introduction of a public service obligation also implies that, according to the agreed conditions, if the service does not prove to be financially rewarding for the provider, the city will have to provide it with compensation.

"In fact, the whole point of organizing this tender is to ensure that this air service is not operated on a commercial basis, but can be done so with the support of public funds. So, yes, we are organizing this tender on the assumption that it will be partly financed from the budget of the City of Tartu," said Mölder.

In previous years, the city has spent around €300,000 a year to subsidize Finnair flights between Tartu and Helsinki. Now, Mölder estimates the municipality's capacity to provide financial support to the winning bidder is two to three times higher than that.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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