‘Nowhere to go’: Soviet-era aircraft museum faces closure

Museum owner Viktors Talpas rides a bicycle at his Aviation Museum in Riga on March 16, 2021. — AFP pic
Museum owner Viktors Talpas rides a bicycle at his Aviation Museum in Riga on March 16, 2021. — AFP pic

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RIGA, March 24 — A private museum in Latvia holding dozens of Soviet aircraft collected over half a century by a retired flight engineer is facing closure.

Viktors Talpas told AFP that his museum, which attracts several thousand visitors a month in non-pandemic times, is being forced to move before the end of the month to make way for an expansion of Riga airport.

“I have to relocate my museum or face its destruction,” said Talpas, who was born in Ukraine and served in the Black Sea fleet in Soviet times before moving to Latvia.

Looking out at the rusty hulks from the USSR’s military and civilian fleet, the 82-year-old said he began collecting “for society’s benefit, not for myself”.

“I have nowhere to go,” Talpas said.

Talpas, who also worked for many years for the airline Aeroflot, expanded his collection after retiring through donations, purchases and trades.

Most of the planes date from the Cold War era and include a MiG-21 fighter, a Mi-6 helicopter gunship and a Tupolev Tu-22M1 training plane.

Pricey relocation

The collection also has deactivated Russian anti-aircraft missiles and Polish, Czech and Ukrainian civil aircraft, as well as remnants of World War II planes such as German Messerschmitt fighters.

There is also the blade of a propeller plane from 1927 — an example of Latvia’s own aviation construction industry, which did not survive World War II.

The planes are on a plot of land owned by the airport that will be house a new hangar and control tower, with only a fence separating the museum from the contemporary planes of Latvian carrier airBaltic.

The museum saw a drop in visitors because of the pandemic but Talpas said they were returning as the restrictions allow visits to open-air facilities.

Airport spokeswoman Laura Kulakova told Latvijas Radio 1 that the airport was offering to transport the collection to a different part of the airport.

But Talpas said he had refused so far because the location proposed would only be accessible from the runway, not from public roads, and tourists would not be able to visit.

Talpas said he had received offers to host the museum but, since none of the aircraft are airworthy, transport would cost at least €200,000 (RM983,297) “and that amount of money we simply do not have”. — AFP

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