Russia sanctions are having an effect on air traffic over Estonia, which has fallen by a third since before the coronavirus pandemic.
Planes flying to Asia from Europe used to pass through the Baltic and Finnish air space. However, sanctions following Russia's aggression in Ukraine have caused airlines to avoid flying over the country, meaning that air traffic has been diverted to cross the North Pole or fly south over Turkey and Georgia.
"The Estonian skies first saw reduced traffic during the Covid period. Once coronavirus restrictions were lifted and the return to normalcy began, the war and sanctions followed. We are still down a third on air traffic volumes compared to the pre-pandemic period," said Mihkel Haug, head of the air traffic control department of Estonian Air Navigation Services (EANS).
The reduced workload also means fewer air traffic controllers are needed.
Tartu is the first Estonian airport to not have an air traffic controller present, with everything managed from Tallinn.
"The aim of the remote tower approach is to control traffic from a distance, concentrate human resources in a single location and improve service quality through technical innovation. We plan to cover all small airports in Estonia with such autonomous air control towers. Because we developed the project ourselves, we want to take it to the world and use it to generate revenue for Estonia," Haug said.
In addition to regular airports, there are over a dozen smaller airfields in Estonia catering mostly to small aircraft and private pilots.
"We could have more such regional airfields. While Põlva County lacks an airfield, the rest of Southern Estonia is well covered, as are the islands, the north coast, Rakvere, Jõhvi and Narva. We have gotten new smaller private airfields and will likely see more," said Ott Mesikäpp, member of the Estonian Private Pilots Association.
The association has around 150 members for most of whom flying is a hobby. Air tourism, which is quite widespread in the Nordics, is slow to reach to Estonia.
"It all depends on the popularity of the country as a tourist destination. International tourism by small aircraft has its limitations, including weather conditions and the availability of airfields and airports. July has been less than ideal this year, with plenty of wind and rain, which does not favor flying," Mesikäpp said.
Editor: Marcus Turovski