TALLINN - While the Latvian media continued to revel in the news of discount airline Ryanair's upcoming flights to Riga, in Estonia there was intense discussion over why the government had failed to woo the Irish airline, especially when Ryanair last year had expressed an interest in the Parnu airport and had even tested the resort's runway.
But bureaucrats passed the buck to the foreign airline, saying it failed to follow up after initial contacts.
"The ministry waited for Ryanair to make a concrete offer to launch flights from the Parnu airport," Ahti Kuningas, head of the economic development department at the Economic Affairs Ministry told the Baltic News Service. "Talks could have been opened after the firm made its interest clear."
He added, "We proposed a meeting, but they did not wish to get together. Probably what Estonia had to offer at the present is of no interest to them."
In Kuningas' opinion, there was only so much the government could do.
"Principles of fair competition do not admit the state going to a concrete company with an offer," he said. "There are many such companies, and as a rule their demands are such that they are hard to comply with."
Besides, Ryanair was seeking an airport with developed infrastructure, as well as lower airport fees, he said.
Experts of the Estonian Civil Aviation Administration and Tallinn Airport estimated that 11.5 million euros were needed to turn the Parnu airport into a reliable international terminal.
According to Kuningas, the airport's passenger terminal, passenger control zone and traffic control building need to be reconstructed. In addition, the entire air traffic zone has to be overhauled.
"Also, a perimeter fence has to be built, and radio navigation systems, security equipment and rescue equipment are at present practically nonexistent," he said.
Ryanair announced on July 27 that it planned to launch flights from Riga to London, Frankfurt and Tampere in October with tickets priced at a deep discount. The development is expected to radically change air travel in the Baltics.
Meanwhile, Tallinn Airport officials said they were holding talks with the budget airline Easyjet.
"If we were to meet them halfway, we'd have to lower airport fees for all carriers," the airport's marketing director Eduard Tuur told the daily Postimees. "One option to do it would be to lower fees outside rush hours."
Otherwise, Tallinn Airport said it would not lower fees anytime soon due to its heavy loan portfolio of 300 million kroons (19.4 million euros).
"Tallinn Airport asks carriers a fee of 15 euros per each outgoing passenger, plus aircraft landing and parking charges," Kuningas said. "At the same time the budget airline Volare operating on the Tallinn-Milan route, for example, pays just as high airport fees as Estonian Air."
As he explained, if the Parnu airport infrastructure were developed and fees lowered, officials would have to decrease fees at Tallinn Airport as well since the two airports compete with one another.
For its part, Estonian Air said it saw no direct competition from Ryanair's expansion to Riga.
"We always welcome further development of commercial aviation across the world," Estonian Air President Erki Urva told the Baltic News Service last week. "Estonian Air is not flying to Riga and we have at present no commercial interest in the Latvian market, thus, developments in Riga do not directly affect us."
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