Moss Lufthavn Rygge sent off its last commercial flight Saturday night and the airport is now officially closed after great turbulence during the past year. As employees and airport officials gathered to mourn the loss of their workplace, others are still working to re-launch civilian aviation operations against heavy odds.
The last flight from Rygge, a Ryanair jet bound for Wroclaw in Poland, reportedly took off 25 minutes late at 9:45pm Saturday. It was Ryanair’s loud objections to a new airline seat tax of NOK 80 on international flights that prompted the cut-rate Irish carrier, Rygge’s only major customer, to shut down its base at the airport about an hour’s drive south of Oslo.
Ryanair, however, has already started running flights from Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen for the first time, where it also must pay the seat tax. Many critics contend Ryanair simply used the seat tax as an excuse to pull out of Rygge in favour of trying to cash in on the ever-growing traffic from Norway’s gateway airport. Ryanair won’t comment on its route plans from OSL Gardermoen, but more flights are expected despite the seat tax.
Rygge officials also largely blamed “the politicians” for initiating the seat tax that was first proposed by the Liberal Party as a “climate measure” aimed at discouraging flying. NOK 80 (around USD 10) isn’t enough to keep Norwegian at home, though, and airline ticket sales have continued to rise in line passenger traffic through Gardermoen, which is about to open a new terminal that’s part of a major expansion plan.
Plans are still afoot to reopen Rygge to commercial airline traffic. A group of potential investors including some major names in Norwegian business and led by a former defense minister received written word from the transport ministry that they can get the concession to run the airport if they successfully negotiate takeover of its buildings from its management group and use of its runways from the military. The group must also secure airlines willing to serve the airport and last week, Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that its administrative leader has violated Norwegian accounting laws on several occasions by failing to file his accounts publicly and on time. It remains highly unclear whether the reopening venture will succeed.
Around 400 people worked at Rygge and news bureau NTB reported last week that only around 100 had found new jobs. Some security guards have found new work at the nearby asylum center set up at Råde, others have moved to where new jobs were offered and others have gone on unemployment. Some still hope the airport will reopen next summer, others have little faith that will happen.
“We’re the ones who have been hit the hardest,” Christer Bredahl, a security guard at Rygge, told newspaper Dagsavisen, even though he’s among those who found a job with a local bus line. “This has been tragic.”