TALLINN - Plans have been revealed for the relocation of Tallinn International Airport, from its present near-city location to an airbase at Amari, 40 kilometers west of the city. However, business leaders expressed doubt about whether such a move is necessary or desirable.
To be sure, any relocation would not take place for another 25 years. But the move, if it were to happen, would allow the airport to increase its traffic from 1.4 million to some 6 million passengers annually.
Tallinn's current airport, the small but adequate Lennujaam at Ulemiste, is praised by travelers for being an efficient and modern facility only four kilometers from the city center. While not boasting all the luxuries of some terminals, it performs better than most regional hubs, with cheap parking, reasonably priced food and shopping, and efficient check-in facilities.
At the same time, air travel remains the second-most popular form of transport in and out of Estonia behind sea travel. The Port of Tallinn serviced over 7 million passengers last year, far ahead of the airport's 1.4 million.
The governing board of the state-owned airport anticipates that the market share of air travel will increase significantly over 25 years.
The proposed move to Amari would see its total ground space increase from about 200 hectares to approximately 500 hectares.
A new terminal would be constructed with a total floor space of between 25,000 and 50,000 square meters, depending on the design.
This would allow the airport to accommodate a four-fold increase in plane traffic. It is envisaged the new terminal could process a total of 150,000 aircraft movements per year 's a marked increase from last year's 33,000 aircraft movements.
By comparison, London's Heathrow Airport handled 67.6 million passengers and serviced 477,877 aircraft movements last year.
Amari was formerly a Soviet-built airfield and is still used for military craft. It is on NATO's planning boards as a potential location for a strategic north European airforce base.
The new airport plan would see a civilian terminal built to the north of the existing military facilities.
But building a passenger airport at Amari would require an upgrade of the roads and public transport services to the area. Business leaders said they doubted whether the move was worthwhile.
Craig Rawlings, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Estonia, said the current Ulemiste terminal was adequate.
"It's hard to predict the city's growth in 25 years, but I doubt whether Tallinn will grow enough to substantiate the relocation of the airport," Rawlings said.
"The current airport really is sufficient for the size of the city, and it would not require an entire relocation to handle the current projected growth."
He said a 40-kilometer trip to the city would not be appreciated by visitors, particularly business travelers.
"It's a big advantage to get off the plane, get in a taxi and be in a business meeting in 15 minutes. You can't do that in most cities, but here you can," Rawlings said. He pointed to the example of Dallas, Texas, where a new airport was built out of town to replace the old city terminal.
"Nobody liked driving for two hours to get to the airport, so people kept using the old airport. The cheaper airlines that used smaller craft and flew into the old airport became really popular. Perhaps that's something to consider here," Rawlings said.