Transport Administration hoping islands air tender will finally hold

A NyxAir ATR 42-500 plane (pictured on Saaremaa). The carrier services Hiiumaa's flight link also, albeit usually with a smaller plane.
A NyxAir ATR 42-500 plane (pictured on Saaremaa). The carrier services Hiiumaa's flight link also, albeit usually with a smaller plane. Source: Mait Ots / ERR

The Transport Administration says it has learned from lengthy tender disputes in the past. If everything goes to plan, Hiiumaa and Saaremaa will retain the same kind of aircraft ferrying passengers to and from now.

The recent history of the Western Estonian islands' air link tenders comes together for a thorough overview of relevant legislation in Estonia and the work of the Public Procurement Review Committee. Last time, three airlines were duking it out over the Tallinn-Kärdla air link contract – Transaviabaltica, NyxAir and Diamond Sky.

The former, operating a 19-seater plane between Tallinn and Kärdla in Hiiumaa since 2019, said last year that it wants more money. The Transport Administration held a new tender and signed a six-month contract with Transaviabaltica. Work started immediately on a new and somewhat less temporary procurement, but it culminated in a mess around New Year's.

Transaviabaltica and Diamond Sky said they would use the same kind of 19-seater Jetstream plane the former does now. However, the Transport Administration then decided the plane is too dangerous for Kärdla's short runway according to new rules. This opened the door to NyxAir's 33-seater plane, but the others challenged this in turn and got the agency to throw out the tender.

The administration then hustled to get price bids from the companies, which ended up with the gig going to Diamond Sky, only using the 33-seater plane previously proposed by NyxAir.

Kärdla to retain the larger aircraft

The dispute over whether landing the Jetstream in Kärdla was dangerous in rainy weather and with the wind from a particular direction was never resolved. However, the Transport Administration learned its lesson and decided to eliminate the type of aircraft from among possible options for the new tender.

"This particular issue has been defused in that a larger plane is sought," said Andres Ruubas, head of the agency's public transport organization department.

The new tender for the Tallinn-Kärdla air link requires a plane with at least 30 seats.

Ruubas said that the decision is also justified in growing interest in flying to Hiiumaa as the number of passengers has grown by 50 percent since Diamond Sky took over.

"Another advantage of having a larger plane is that people who dared not fly before have now found their way to air travel," he added.

Kuressaare tender conditions fit for current plane

The line between Tallinn and Kuressaare, the capital of Saaremaa, is currently serviced by NyxAir's ATR 42-500 plane that seats 48. This has been the case since December 2020. Until then, skirmishes over tender conditions took place between Transaviabaltica and state-owned Regional Jet. The biggest bone of contention was the requirement of the aircraft being manufactured after the year 2000.

And the condition is set to make it to the new tender. "If we had changed that, someone could have brought an older and cheaper plane," Ruubas said, adding that it was the wish of the Saaremaa Municipality Government to see a newer aircraft.

There is no limit for the age of the plane in the Kärdla contract. "The plane flying between Tallinn and Kärdla is from 1989 and has been trouble free so far," the official said.

The Transport Administration wants at least a 42-seater plane for the Saaremaa link. "Passenger figures are also up roughly 50 percent on the Tallinn-Kuressaare line, while the planes are flying at 55 percent capacity on average, meaning there's room for development," Ruubas said.

He explained that brand new airlines have been registered in Estonia and the agency doesn't know who exactly will be entering bids. But since there are only a few types of planes available, the same or similar aircraft that are already flying will likely be offered.

"Talking about 42-seaters and bigger, there are two options – the aforementioned ATR and a Saab. There is just one 30-seater option," Ruubas remarked.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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