News2023.05.26 11:21

‘Historic opportunity.’ Lithuania’s airports prepare for challenges during Vilnius NATO summit

As Vilnius looks to host the NATO summit in July, preparations are underway at Lithuania’s airports, with aircraft service companies looking for extra staff and airports coordinating security procedures.

There will also be changes for travellers, as around 100 flights will be grounded when the airspace over Vilnius is closed for about a day in mid-July.

Around 100 flights will be affected

In line with NATO security requirements, all commercial aircraft flights will be barred from the zone within a 30-kilometre radius of the summit’s venue, the Litexpo Exhibition Centre. The restriction will last from noon on July 11 to 14:00 on July 12.

The delegations attending the NATO meeting will be landing at Vilnius and Kaunas airports. According to the estimates of Lithuanian Airports, about 100 regular flights will be affected.

“It is up to the airlines themselves to decide how to organise flights during the closure and they can choose different alternatives, so passengers should communicate directly with the airlines,” Tadas Vasiliauskas, a spokesman for Lithuanian Airports, told BNS.

According to him, due to the restriction, businesses based in Vilnius Airport is looking at around 200,000 euros in lost revenue from aviation and commercial activities such as restaurants, parking and others.

Even before the closure, higher than normal aircraft traffic could also cause disruptions and delays.

“It is likely that the restrictions on the way to Vilnius Airport may cause some inconvenience for passengers, and there may be additional checks at the airport. People are advised to use public transport instead of their cars,” said Vasiliauskas.

“At the moment, we have already started talks on increasing train services between the capital city’s railway station and the airport,” he added.

Despite the closed airspace, all passenger terminals at Vilnius Airport will be operating as usual and will be open to people who wish to enter them.

Vasiliauskas says that an event of this scale is quite a challenge for Vilnius and Kaunas airports, and preparations have been underway since the beginning of this year. It will cost around 0.5 million euros in total.

“We are now in the final stage of preparation, coordinating the final requirements of security and other procedures with the delegations’ representatives. [...] The specific numbers of aircraft and the distribution of aircraft between the airports are still in the final stage of coordination, but we can assure you that both airports are ready to welcome all the delegations,” the company’s representative said.

On the days of the NATO event, Vilnius Airport will reserve and use around 50 percent of all parking spaces for the delegations’ planes, while Kaunas Airport will use around 70 percent.

According to Vasiliauskas, the airports do not plan to hire additional staff for the time being, but they have announced a registration for those who want to volunteer during the event.

Passenger and aircraft handling

Around 40 delegations from NATO member and partner countries are expected to come to Vilnius. Passenger and aircraft ground handling company Litcargus says it is looking for more than 20 additional specialists to ensure a smooth reception of delegations and their aircraft.

“We see this as a historic opportunity to contribute to this event and gain more experience. [...] In July, both Vilnius and Kaunas airports will be hosting exceptional aircraft, numerous foreign delegations and the highest-ranking heads of state, so the company, seeing the need to increase the number of employees, is hiring for different positions,” the company’s human resources manager Asta Jurėnaitė told BNS.

She said that the company would keep the staff hired for the NATO event. “It is not necessary to have experience in aviation to apply, because we train, we have a strong training base for servicing passengers and aircraft, and we would also have experienced employees to would ensure smooth organisation of the work.”

According to Jurėnaitė, there is also a big challenge in terms of equipment to accommodate all the arriving planes in the airport area. Preparations are also being made to ensure that the staff themselves can come to the airports safely and on time.

“There will be many challenges – for the staff, how to arrive safely and on time at the airport, how to provide transport for the staff, how to be able to service the aircraft on time – I think it will be a big test for everyone,” said Jurėnaitė.

In order to ensuring a smooth service, the company is in talks with airports in other countries about sharing resources, including sending employees for training.

Holidays will not be affected

Tour operators say they learned about the air traffic restrictions during the NATO event in mid-April, so flights scheduled at that time were adjusted and travellers responded well.

Inga Aukštuolytė, head of marketing at Tez Tour, says that the company had planned four flights to two destinations, Antalya and Crete, during the NATO summit. They will not be cancelled, just rescheduled.

“These scheduled flights are not cancelled, they will continue to operate as planned from Vilnius, but their schedule will be adjusted. Some flights will be brought forward and others will be delayed, depending on availability and travellers’ convenience. All travellers who had planned to travel on these days have been informed of the changes in flight times. We are pleased with the understanding of holidaymakers,” the Tez Tour spokeswoman told BNS.

Miglė Bielinytė, communications manager at the travel agency Novaturas, says it had five return flights between Vilnius and Turkey, Rhodes and Bulgaria planned during the NATO summit. Some of them will take off before the airspace closure and will not need to be rescheduled.

“We have adjusted the times of the other flights, bringing some of them forward and some of them back. We informed our clients about all the changes to the timetable several weeks ago, either directly or through intermediary travel agencies,” Bielinytė told BNS.

One of the flights, to Antalya on 12 July, had to be cancelled due to security requirements.

“We have given customers the opportunity to change their travel dates three days before and after July 12 without incurring additional losses,” said the spokeswoman.

According to her, the company plans to park its chartered planes at Vilnius Airport during the NATO meeting, but in case of unforeseen circumstances, there is a possibility to park them at Palanga Airport.

Clients have been informed to plan that security checks and airport procedures could take up additional two or three hours, says Join UP! Baltic head Sabina Saikovskaja.

The company rescheduled one planned flight to Antalya during the restrictions, and no cancellations or changes to other trips were necessary.

The NATO Vilnius Summit will take place on July 11-12.

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