Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Barents region’s only east-west flight could be grounded in late October

Air carrier Pskovavia’s permission to fly to Tromsø expires in two weeks. Passengers fears the route will be closed since no alternatives exist.

The old An-24 propeller is a well-known aircraft for travelers of the Barents skies. Under different airliner brands, the aircraft has operated the route from Arkhangelsk, via Murmansk to Tromsø for nearly 20 years. In the 1990s and early 2000s the aircraft was also operating the route from Murmansk to Rovaniemi and Luleå.

But it could all end on Oct. 24, the start of the winter-route season. Norwegian aviation authorities has sent a clear message to Pskovavia, a Russian carrier, that it can no longer fly the route, since the license for it belongs to another airliner, Arkhangelsk-based Nordavia.

Confusing history

Nordavia was flying the route with the same aircraft until late 2012, when Pskovavia took over, painted a small version of their logo on the airplane’s nose and continued to fly to Tromsø twice a week. The tickets and marketing, air crew, seats’ upholstery, sugar bags for coffee and the tail of the plane, however, all carry Nordavia's brand.

The tricky operation of the route, with a plane passengers believe belongs to Nordavia, while it is operated by Pskovavia, becomes even more confusing to people looking into the web portals of the two companies. Nordavia sells tickets and lists the route on their arrival and departure information. Pskovavia, on the other hand, has no information about the route to Tromsø in their list of destinations and departure, arrival times.

Intermediate solution

Other aviation portals, like Flightradar24 and Airport-data, list the plane that is operated on the route as registered with Nordavia.

Pskovavia wants to continue their flights between Arkhangelsk, Murmansk and Tromsø, but the Norwegian-Russian civil aviation agreement lists Nordavia as operator of the route.

Bjørn Erlandsen, a spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority of Norway, told BarentsObserver that they have accepted this as an intermediate solution.

“When the Civil Aviation Authority approved the summer schedules to the company in March, it was clearly said that if Pskovavia should fly the winter schedules instead of Nordavia, we would need a formal approval of the company from Russian authorities in accordance with the air transport agreement,” Erlandsen said.

He said the authority has received an application from Pskovavia for the route, and a note from Nordavia that they have no objections.

Unique route

For passengers, the route is the only one linking northern Norway with northern Russia. Alternative routes would be way longer and far more expensive, flying south to catch a flight between the capitals Oslo and Moscow, before flying north again.

Jonny Andersen is airport director in Tromsø and says the route between Tromsø and Murmansk is unique.

“What we are trying to do here in Tromsø is to build the hub of Barents, the airport hub with connections to all the major cities in the neighboring countries of Finland, Sweden and Russia. Having that route from Tromsø to Murmansk is essential. Without it we have a totally different picture than we have today,” Andersen told BarentsObserver.

“The route is the gateway from Tromsø to Northwest-Russia. I would really like to see more flights per week, even per day. Murmansk is the largest city above the Arctic Circle and, of course, we have to serve that one. Having the possibility to fly to Murmansk is absolutely unique,” Andersen said.

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This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch News as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.

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