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Private aviation museum faces relocation to make way for Rail Baltica

The aviation museum adjacent to the runway at Rīga International Airport is one of the first things many visitors to Latvia see. The red-starred tails and rotors of Soviet-era jets and helicopters may not project quite the modern, Nordic image preferred by policymakers, but they certainly let arrivals know they are landing somewhere with an interesting history.

The aviation museum is not a state institution. In fact it is privately owned and has remained a quirky, somewhat ramshackle fixture at the airport for decades, as the airport itself has grown and modernised around it. 

Now though, it finally faces the need for change because of another mode of transport entirely. The construction of a new railway terminal as part of the 6-billion-euro Rail Baltica project means the Rīga Aviation Museum must find a new home by March 31. The current site is leased from the airport but is earmarked for development.

Aviācijas muzeja vadītājs Viktors Talpa

The airport administration points out that negotiations with Viktors Talpa, the owner of the private collection, on relocation have been unsuccessful for years. Talpa has rejected all offers so far and has now started a belated donation campaign in his efforts to find a better home for his collection.

"Well, look, how could this be moved down the street?" Viktors Talpa told Latvian Radio, pointing to a 40-meter-long dark green Mi-6 cargo helicopter with a red star on the side, which is one of the most impressive exhibits in his 40-strong collection.

The airport officially informed Talpa about the need to relocate two years ago, but negotiations involving Talpa, the Airport and Mārupe local council have yet to produce results with time nearly up.

The airport has offered to help move the exhibits to its own land on the other side of the airport, but this was rejected by Talpa.

"There is an open field, there is nothing, no communication. You have to make a kilometer-long trail. The airport estimated that all this could cost about 200,000 euros. Moving, fencing, security, electricity, water, everything,” he said.

Aviācijas muzejs pie lidostas "Rīga". 2021. gada februāris.

He would prefer to move nearby, behind the Latvijas Pasts building, to land offered by a private owner, but it would also cost 200,000 euros. That is why the museum has now opened a donation account and is asking for financial help on the social network "Facebook". This was done only a week ago, and there has been no significant response.

The Minister of Transport Tālis Linkaits (New Conservative Party), who once worked on the council of Riga Airport, believes that the aviation industry should think about the establishment of a common aviation museum, along the lines of Rīga's popular railway and motor museums. However, with regard to Talpa's collection, he sees the biggest problem as the owner's unwillingness to cooperate.

Aviācijas muzejs pie lidostas "Rīga". 2021. gada februāris.

“We have quite a lot of private collectors in Latvia who collect various pieces of equipment. We have a tank museum, a tram museum, the Baloži peat train - private initiatives where active people write project applications, receive funding... renovate and are active. In my opinion, this particular collector is a little bit stuck in Soviet history,” said the Minister.

If within the next month and a half the private Aviation Museum fails to raise money to transfer the collection to its preferred private land, as seems likely, then it is planned to forcibly move the exhibits to the plot of land offered by the airport on the other side of the airport.

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