Riivo Tuvike about flight restrictions: Flight restrictions do not guarantee health security
Estonia and Latvia are the only European Union countries that have established complete flight prohibition to countries with high corona risk. In practice, this does not improve health security, but vice versa – reduces control over the health situation of people arriving in the country, Riivo Tuvike, Chairman of the Management Board of Tallinn Airport writes.
At the moment, it is possible to fly to eight destinations from Tallinn Airport; self-isolation requirement applies to passengers arriving from four destinations; flight connection with 14 destinations are prohibited and several routes have been closed also by airlines. Despite the fact that only eight routes in six countries are open from a total of 30 possible destinations, people still travel to and from countries with high infection rate, where flights from Tallinn have been terminated. They do it through Vilnius, Helsinki or Frankfurt. For example, AirBaltic is expanding its base in Vilnius to satisfy the growing demand, caused by restrictions in the Baltic States. Besides flying, there are also other alternatives to travel, such as by car or boat and these have no restrictions at all, which is why it is incomprehensible, why we treat one means of transport some other way and this especially given the situation, where air transport is used much less for travelling than other means of transport.
I understand that the prohibitions are based on the interest to protect public health, which most definitely is important; however, this model does not serve that purpose. On the contrary, this gives a possibility to circumvent the established self-isolation requirement, where in fear of the quarantine, people conceal the initial destination of travel. The Police and Border Guard officers are revealed the last stop, which is either Vilnius, Helsinki, Frankfurt or Berlin and these are the locations that we have permitted direct connections with. It would be much easier and controlled if the direct flight from Brussels lands safely at Tallinn Airport and all passengers pass through the Police and Border Guard check and there would not be any questions about the point of departure of the flight.
Protecting the public health is important and we must pay more attention to checking self-isolation and to more extensive testing. Today, it is very difficult to systematically check the self-isolation, however we need to do it for the sake of public health. In Estonia, we are already witnessing new virus outbreaks and these could be related to violation of the quarantine requirement. I believe that the Police and Border Guard Board has resources to be directed to carrying out additional control procedures. Not everyone can allow to stay home for 14 days and here we should work out a sustainable and affordable system how to shorten the time of self-isolation. The solution lies in testing. At this point, I would like to commend our government, who last week passed a decision where it is possible to shorten the time of quarantine through testing.
With flight prohibitions we will harm Estonia’s economy. The corona statistics revealed that 100,000 passengers will generate about 30 million euros in indirect revenues for the state. In July, we reached nearly 76,000 passengers, which makes just about 24% of the passenger volume of last July. Thus, we have already lost the state revenue originating from aviation. By continuing to implement the current methodology, we will once again risk of being fully isolated as it happened in April.
The less flight passengers we have, the easier it is for the airlines to decide also on ending flights from Tallinn. Reopening the routes, however, takes endless negotiations and stable and predictable passenger-flow. Most definitely, it is not in the interests of our country and economic development, when flights can be taken from Tallinn to neighbouring countries only. We would notably worsen the competitive situation of our country.
Flight prohibitions limit the connectivity of Estonia with the rest of the world and unfortunately, do not protect the public health either. Let’s end the flight prohibition! Otherwise, it may happen that in a month’s time one can fly only to Kärdla and Kuressaare from Tallinn.