TALLINN - On Sept. 2, for the first time in its history, Tallinn Airport passed the million'spassenger milestone during a calendar year, with airport officials promising to boost investments and lower passenger fees.
By contrast, Riga International Airport marked its 1 millionth passenger in August, but as Tallinn Airport officials pointed out, Latvia has a population of 2.3 million while Estonia's is 1.4 million.
Airport executives are predicting that total turnover will amount to 1.4 million passengers this year, a 40 percent increase year-on-year and a sharp contrast to the 605,000 that shuffled through the airport doors in 2002.
To meet the increased demand, the airport is planning to invest 860 million kroons (55 million euros) over the next three years. Most of the financing will come from the EU cohesion fund.
Rein Loik, airport chairman, said that the passenger terminal would be expanded by 18 meters on each end, and a new 200-meter-long corridor with nine gates would be added. Currently there are only five gates at the airport. In addition, the departure lounge will be divided in half, with one serving EU-bound flights and the second all other destinations.
"Estonia is planning to join the Schengen area by 2007, and we must be ready," he said.
Passport control will be conducted only at non-Schengen areas, whereas local flights will have a security control.
A modern drainage and cleaning system will be built, the terminal's de-icing system will be improved, and the taxiing area will be extended, making air traffic safer and more environmentally'sfriendly. This will enable the airport to increase the number of flights and shorten intervals between them, Loik explained.
What's more, the airport is planning to lower fees despite the investments. Loik said that the fee would not be raised from the present 155 kroons per passenger, saying that this was an average fee in comparison with other European airports.
The last time the airport changed the size of fees was in November last year, when fees for all flights were reduced to 155 kroons regardless of the time of day.
Regarding new airlines, Loik couldn't say if any would start flying to the Estonian capital in the near future, though he admitted there was interest.
Currently, Tallinn Airport has regular flight connections with 21 European cities and two Estonian islands with 13 airlines. The biggest flight companies this year were Estonian Air (46 percent), Easyjet (13 percent), Aero Airlines (11 percent), CSA Czech Airlines, Lufthansa, Air Baltic and LOT.
The most popular destinations were London (14 percent), Helsinki (13 percent), Stockholm (11 percent) and Copenhagen (10 percent).
Piret Kallas from Enterprise Estonia said that, although Easyjet started flights last year in November, a slow season, the interest among British tourists was high. "British tourists come for a city tour, which is less seasonal, while German tourists coming with Easyjet's Berlin route prefer to tour around all the Baltic countries. British tourists include a number of bachelors as well," he said.
According to 2003 statistics, only 5 percent of people travel to Estonia by air. Sixty percent of passengers arrived and left by liner, 5 percent by cruise ships, 28 percent by land and 1 percent by train. Some 6.7 million passengers passed through Tallinn Port last year.
"The number of passengers coming through the port and harbor has increased quite a lot, but the share has not changed much," said Kallas.
The number of passengers, especially business passengers, increased tremendously when Estonia became an EU member, said Loik. A drop in ticket prices has also influenced the increase. Two discount airlines, Easyjet and Fly Nordic, have brought along a new profile of customers, who would otherwise not travel.