Estonian Air suffers from air strike

  • 1999-03-18
  • Rebecca Santana
TALLINN - The good news for Estonian Air is the air traffic controllers' strike at Helsinki's Vantaa Airport is over. The bad news is the damage it caused is just being added up.

Officials at Estonian Air estimate they will lose between 10 and 15 million kroons ($700,000 to $1 million) because of the strike that began Feb. 1 and ended March 9.

The strike was a headache for the thousands of passengers who travel between Tallinn and Helsinki or use the Helsinki airport as a hub to other destinations.

Helsinki accounts for 35 percent of the traffic through the Tallinn Airport. Half is local and half is hub traffic. Twenty percent of Estonian Air traffic goes through Helsinki.

During February, 85 percent of operations at Helsinki were completed using a reduced staff. However, all flights between Tallinn and Helsinki were stopped due to lack of manpower March 1, leaving some passengers in the lurch. One flight got out March 1, but the rest were rerouted to sea transportation or given a refund.

Many passengers had to change their travel plans at the last minute. Toomas Leis, vice-president of Estonian Air, said that even though flights between Tallinn and Helsinki resumed, the impact is still being felt.

"The reinstated flights at the moment are quite empty because people have made other plans," said Leis.

Nine flights go between Tallinn and Helsinki every day, and seven of those are on Estonian Air. The remaining two are on Finnair, but since the two companies have a cooperation agreement, Estonian Air passengers can ride Finnair planes and vice versa.

The cooperation agreement ends March 28, when the official summer schedule begins. Estonian Air will then begin a cooperation agreement with the Scandinavian airline, SAS, part of their plan to diversify their destinations. Copenhagen will become a more important hub for travelers transferring to long distance flights.

"The importance of Helsinki as a hub for transit passengers will diminish," said Leis.

Estonian Air turnover in 1997 was 516 million kroons, with a loss of 56 million kroons, an improvement from the 1996 loss of 82 million. Leis said that the results for fiscal year 1998 will not be known until April or May.

The Maersk Group, a Danish aviation company, owns 49 percent of Estonian Air, the state owns 34 percent and Baltic Cresco Investment Group owns the remaining 17 percent. According to a privatization plan approved in 1996, Estonian Air is to be operating in the black by the end of 1999.

"Our estimate is that it will be in the black by the end of 1999," said Leis.