Estonian Air prepares for open skies

  • 2003-07-03
  • Melanie O’Connell

In preparation for Estonia's expected EU membership, Estonian Air has announced it will begin direct flights from Tallinn to Berlin and Oslo beginning this August.
The airline, which has been gradually expanding its flight routing in recent years, is also negotiating to begin direct flights between Tallinn and Brussels.
This comes only three months after Estonian Air launched its new Tallinn and Paris route.
The airline's fleet, which is currently comprised of three Boeing 737-500 and one Fokker 50 aircraft, will also be expanded, with a new Boeing 737-500 to be leased from the International Lease Finance Corporation.
Estonian Air leases two of its three existing Boeing aircraft from the ILFC under an agreement whereby the aircraft were specifically built at the Seattle Boeing plant for the airline company.
The existing lease agreements will also be extended by two years.
With the return of the 48-seater Fokker 50 aircraft to its leaser at the end of October, all Estonian Air routes, including those to Kiev and Vilnius, will be served by a fleet of Boeings.
At a time when many airlines are suffering economic losses, Estonian Air appears to be strengthening its position in the market.
Last year the airline turned a profit of 39.2 million kroons (2.5 million euros) on sales of 838 million kroons, more than double the previous year's profit of 15 million kroons.
The better than expected result was partly attributed to large increases in passenger numbers on the London and Moscow routes, which saw increases of 30 percent and 23 percent last year.
Flights between Tallinn and Frankfurt, Hamburg and Copenhagen last year carried 10 percent more passengers than in 2001.
Strong ticket sales have continued this year. Between January and May, Estonian Air carried more than 140,000 passengers, a 23 percent increase on the same period in 2002.
And in June the airline posted its highest ever one-week number of passengers serviced, with 9,296 people traveling on Estonian Air between June 16 and 22.
Estonian Air President Erki Urva said the increased number of overall passengers had allowed the impending fleet expansion.
"We are making preparations for the new challenges Estonia will face after joining the European Union. The Estonian aviation market will then be a part of European Open Skies, which means that Estonian airlines will have access to the European skies, and vice versa," Urva explained.
Currently Estonian Air must apply to, and gain permission from, the relevant local civil aviation authorities before opening a new air route.
Should Estonia join the EU, the airline consequently falls under the European open skies policy, which allows airlines the freedom to fly between continental destinations.
According to Estonian Air Communications manager Epp Alatalu, despite the increased freedom and opportunities within Europe, the airline will continue to focus on servicing the local market.
"After joining the EU, Estonia will be part of the European civil aviation area. This means that Estonian Air or any other Estonian carrier could operate, for example, a Dublin - Brussels route, and any carrier from EU countries could fly to Estonia on an equal basis," Alatalu explained.
"But Estonia will always remain the home market and home base for Estonian Air. There will just be more chances and challenges and also more competition," Alatalu added.