Estonia is two to three flight hours away from Europe's main hubs, and with it from the busier parts of Europe's aviation market. That makes operating direct routes from Tallinn a formidable commercial challenge. Still, the increasing purchasing power of Estonia's residents has attracted the attention of low-frills airlines.
As Tallinn Airport's commercial director, Eero Pärgmäe, explained to ERR's Allan Rajavee last week, the airport is aiming for some 2.9 million travelers in 2018. The number is based on forecasts as well as the available seats on flights to and from Tallinn.
The aviation business in Estonia is currently also profiting from a favorable market across Europe, with a growth of 8.5 percent in 2017 overall, and a whopping 19 percent domestically.
The increase in passenger numbers does have a domestic dimension as well. The economy has lately been growing, and as Pärgmäe puts it, the weather hasn't exactly been great, which has moved a lot of people to fly away on holiday in the summer as well as the winter.
A combination of local demand and fierce competition in the lower price segment of the aviation industry on the whole has seen the number of scheduled direct flights from Tallinn grow to 41. Tallinn Airport is mainly of regional significance, which means traffic to hubs close by is intense, with the routes to Helsinki, Frankfurt, and Riga being the busiest.
Apart from feeder flights to bigger airports, Tallinn has been on the radar of low-frills airlines like Ryanair, Vueling, and starting this summer also Wizzair. Still, as Pärgmäe confirms, the fact that Tallinn is two to three hours away from Europe's biggest centers and even more from the Mediterranean, direct flights to cities as well as holiday destinations are relatively expensive to operate.
The growing number of flights can also be attributed to the currently low global oil price, which is positively affecting airlines' overheads and has made it commercially feasible to operate a larger number of flights.
The role of the airports is to try and find companies to operate direct flights. Tallinn Airport is working with others to sort out routes that may be attractive to operators. In doing this, they tend to concentrate on destinations for which they now there is some demand in the market.
"At the moment we're missing connections to Rome, Madrid, Malaga, and Zürich, for example," Pärgmäe explained. Tallinn Airport is in regular contact with some 25 airlines and will continue to try and increase the number of available direct flights, both seasonally and regularly.
Editor: Dario Cavegn