Helsinki Airport (HEL) is the best-connected airport in the Nordics, which gives a competitive advantage to the Finnish economy is some unforeseen ways. Tourism, of course, brings cash flow into the country, but it’s the ripple effect of connectedness, which induces corporations to set up regional headquarters here, for example, that may have the biggest effect on the Finnish economy. If you’re a director of a Beijing-based company (PEK), you might enjoy knowing you can make it home from Helsinki in 7.5 hours.
We met with Petri Vuori, Vice President of Sales and Route Development at member company Finavia, the Finnish Airport Operator, to discuss the strategic advantage of being in the north, how design can strategically reflect a national ethos and the aviation ecosystem’s relationship to the economy and business.
Much is made of Finland’s smallness and weather, which is largely due to its proximity to the North Pole. However, in terms of aviation and the earth’s spherical shape, the most efficient path from one side of the northern hemisphere to the other is often right over Finland. Finally, a bit of luck!
After deplaning in HEL from one of these transcontinental flights – from JFK (New York), NRT (Tokyo), or SIN (Singapore, which allows you to tell the joke “I just got off a flight from SIN to HEL”) – one’s first impression is of silence, space and serenity. This design concept reflects the nation itself. For example, HEL is the first major airport to decrease the amount of announcements that mark the nervous systems of most airport visitors, mostly limiting them to the area of the actual gate. It was a risk: would there be a jump in the number of passengers missing their flights?
“The number stayed the same,” Petri says. “Finns are ready to experiment, and our size makes it easy to try things out. Another development is our hub center, from where all airport operations are coordinated. In the afternoon, for example, Finnair has many flights arriving within a short period from Asia. Based on who and what is on board, which connections they must make and when, we cooperate with the airlines and air navigation company to dictate the order in which the planes touchdown, which gates they taxi to, and so on. HEL is designed as a transit airport.”
There is a minimum connecting time of 35 minutes, which is one of the lowest of any major airport in the world, and not because HEL is as small as it sometimes appears. The airport processes about 18 million passengers annually, with 500 operations daily and over 140 non-stop destinations, but still feels small due to the efficient design, highly skilled staff and the Finnish penchant for simple, workable solutions to complex problems.
Finavia is in the middle of a 900-million-euro investment, which is based on predictions that the number of passengers passing through HEL will increase through 2030. The prediction is a good omen for the Finnish economy: new routes and better connections, increased international visitors and visibility, business and personal connectablity, add up to making Finland a more attractive place for foreign investment.
“Investment in aviation and tourism is an investment in the backbone of the economy. We’re not a mono-destination, like Paris with the Mono Lisa and Eiffel Tower, but we have plenty to offer across the country: Lapland is growing more popular, Helsinki design and architecture, cool summers and clean nature, safety and predictability. You get what you sign up for,” concludes Petri.
HEL is a certified emission neutral airport, making it ‘future proof’ and has paved the way to the future with facial recognition border control checkpoints and one of the most impressive snow-removal operations on the globe (the last time the airport was closed due to snow as in 2003—for 30 minutes).
It may be ironic that one of the best reasons for living in or moving to the Helsinki region is the ease with which you can leave, but it’s good to remember that much of our international investment is a direct result of Finland being more globally connected now than ever in history. And for that we can thank the wise decision makers at places like Finavia.