Finnair takes leisurely approach to long-haul network expansion

The arrival of four new Airbus A350-900 airliners during 2017 will enable Finnair to grow its long-haul winter 2017/2018 schedule and alongside growth in its existing markets, it will also introduce four popular leisure destinations to its network. These routes from Helsinki to Goa, India; Havana, Cuba; Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic; and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico will be launched in the final quarter of the year and will initially operate on a seasonal basis through to the end of March 2018.

The first of the new Finnair routes to launch will be to Puerto Vallarta, a popular tourism region on Mexico’s Pacific Ocean coast with weekly Sunday flights being launched from November 19, 2017 and flown by an A350 through to March 18, 2018. A twice weekly link to the coastal city of Goa in India, operated by an A330 on Wednesdays and Sundays, will follow from November 29, 2017 through to March 21, 2018.

On November 30, 2017 the new scheduled weekly A330 flight to Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic will commence, with a twice weekly service to Havana in Cuba due to start from December 1, 2017. This will be flown using an A350 and both routes will operate through to March 23, 2018.

“With the expected arrival of four new Airbus A350 aircraft in 2017, we are pressing ahead with our growth strategy. These newest additions will offer even more travel options and flexibility for our customers travelling between Asia and Europe.”

Juha Järvinen
Chief Commercial Officer, Finnair

Finnair will also add capacity to Thailand during the winter 2017 season. Two additional weekly frequencies will be added to its Bangkok route, bringing the total number of flights between Helsinki and Bangkok to 16 times weekly. It will also adjust its schedule to offer a late evening flight between both cities giving additional flexibility for travellers, while schedules for Krabi and Phuket routes have also been adjusted in order to enable more efficient connections for passengers flying from the Baltic and Scandinavian countries via Helsinki.

Alongside developments in these predominantly leisure markets, Finnair will also add a weekly frequency on its Delhi route, flying six times a week to the Indian capital during the winter season. Meanwhile, it will also be adding two new frequencies to its Singapore route, making it a daily destination year-round, and three additional weekly frequencies to Hong Kong, making it a 10 times weekly operation year-round.

“With the expected arrival of four new Airbus A350 aircraft in 2017, we are pressing ahead with our growth strategy,” says Juha Järvinen, chief commercial officer at Finnair. “These newest additions will offer even more travel options and flexibility for our customers travelling between Asia and Europe through our efficient Helsinki airport hub which guarantees a short and smooth connection.”

Finnair was the first European carrier to fly the A350 and has a commitment to receive 19 aircraft by the end of 2023. It received its first aircraft in October 2015 and began the year with seven aircraft. This will grow to eleven by the end of 2017, supporting this network growth directly through new route launches and aircraft substitutions allowing its A330s to be deployed into new markets.

The arrival of the A350 into the Finnair fleet is providing significant growth opportunities, but in the short-term is delivering some complexities to the carrier’s long-haul operation as it works to train existing A330 and A340 crews to fly the new generation airliner. This has resulted in the wet-lease of a Hi Fly A340 for its Helsinki - New York route between November 3, 2016 and January 8, 2017, the wet-lease of an Iberia A330 to serve Helsinki – Miami from January 7, 2017 to April 30, 2017 and the short-term cancellation of its Helsinki – Chongqing route between January 11, 2017 and May 1, 2017.

“This aircraft is the future of flying and gives our passengers a completely new and enhanced travel experience," Pekka Vauramo, chief executive, Finnair told Routesonline during an interview late last year. “But, we have had a few teething issues like any first operator of an aircraft and our own staff training has been one issue.

"Pilot training is a key part of our preparations for growth and it is disappointing we have had to seek third party support to deliver our schedule. We needed to respect our schedule and the wet-lease deals enable us to ensure punctual operations. Unfortunately, with regard Chongqing, overflight restrictions limit the use of wet-leased aircraft and therefore led to the short-term cancellation.”

While the range and performance of the A350 means it is well suited to Finnair’s long-haul operations to both the east and west, the aircraft is also proving valuable on short-haul routes with regular deployment on the airline’s flights from Helsinki to Brussels and London. This is as much to meet freight demand than peak passenger flows into Helsinki and beyond.

“The A350 helps to deliver additional cargo capacity via Helsinki into Asia,” said Vauramo. “We have major cargo flows into both European cities.” With capacity restrictions at Heathrow, Vauramo predicts the A350 could be used more and more to its London schedule, while he even suggests the aircraft can support peak traffic flows on domestic routes. “We could easily see the aircraft flying Helsinki – Rovaniemi in Finnish Lapland in the peak winter months,” he added.

Lapland lights up Finnair’s short-haul winter programme

The long-haul expansion will be complemented by further growth in Europe during the winter 2017 schedule, including the introduction of non-stop flights to Finnish Lapland from London, Paris, Frankfurt and Zürich from mid-December 2017 through to the end of March 2018. These flights will support the increasing number of international arrivals to the ski and holiday resorts around Kittilä and Ivalo.

The airline will operate two weekly flights between London’s Gatwick airport and Ivalo on Thursdays and Sundays, one weekly flight between Zurich and Kittilä on Saturdays, one weekly flight between Frankfurt and Kittilä on Tuesdays and one weekly flight between Paris CDG and Kittilä on Tuesdays. The flights will be operated with a mix of A320 and A321 airliners.

“There is increased interest towards Finland and especially Lapland as tourist destinations.”

Juha Järvinen
Chief Commercial Officer, Finnair

Additional capacity into Lapland will offered via Finnair’s Helsinki hub with the addition of three further weekly flights to Rovaniemi, bringing it to 30 weekly frequencies. Furthermore, additional frequencies will be added to Ivalo (four weekly), Kittilä (four weekly) and Kuusamo (one weekly).

In total, Finnair will operate up to 52 weekly frequencies from Helsinki to Lapland airports during the peak winter season increasing its total capacity to Lapland airports by 18 per cent compared to the current winter season.

“There is increased interest towards Finland and especially Lapland as tourist destinations, and we are excited to be able to offer non-stop flights to Lapland from key European cities,” said Järvinen, “In addition to the multiple flight alternatives via Helsinki, these new non-stop flights will offer great additional opportunities for European tourists visiting Lapland.”

More capacity being deployed in key markets in 2017

In line with its growth strategy, Finnair is also adding capacity on several popular European short-haul routes for the upcoming year. Its new Helsinki - Reykjavik route which begins on April 11, 2017 will gain a fifth weekly frequency on Wednesdays between May 31, 2017 and August 11, 2017 to meet demand. The route will also become a year-round destination with three weekly frequencies now planned during the winter season.

Finnair is also increasing capacity in Denmark with an additional daily frequency on weekdays to Copenhagen and a larger aircraft on the Billund route. This is to not just meet local demand point-to-point demand, but the increasing flows of passengers connecting to long-haul flights via Helsinki, most notably to and from China.

“Last year, Copenhagen was our largest destination from China and we see more potential in Denmark with our upcoming new destinations and growth plans,” said Järvinen. “We also started our route to Billund last spring and we have been very pleased as there is high demand from Finland to visit Legoland, in particular during the summer months and the route connects well to our Asian network via Helsinki."

“Last year, Copenhagen was our largest destination from China and we see more potential in Denmark with our upcoming new destinations and growth plans.”

Juha Järvinen
Chief Commercial Officer, Finnair

As of May 14, 2017 five weekly frequencies will be added year-round to the Copenhagen route, including a morning flight from Copenhagen which will enable convenient day trips to Helsinki for business passengers. Compared to the previous summer season, Finnair is increasing capacity on the Copenhagen route by 21 per cent.

Increased capacity on Helsinki – Billund will be delivered between June and August by Finnair flying four days per week with an A319, instead of an Embraer E190 aircraft, boosting capacity by eleven per cent.

Elsewhere, a third daily frequency to Vilnius on weekdays will be added year-round as of May 15, 2017 to open additional European and long haul connections from Lithuania’s capital and a daily frequency will be added to Warsaw for the peak summer season between June 5, 2017 and August 4, 2017.

An additional weekly frequency will also be added to the Helsinki - Dublin route for the winter 2017 season, while the Saturday Helsinki - Alanya-Gazipasa flight will be extended until the middle of December 2017.

“Our journey towards growth continues and we are very pleased with our line-up of short-haul destinations for the upcoming year,” said Järvinen. “These exciting changes and developments for our airline reflect the increased demand, both from our Asian customers and our local customers, on these popular European routes.”

ANALYSIS - Behind the network numbers

The forthcoming summer will be the sixth successive year that Finnair has grown capacity. Since the start of the decade its summer offer has grown 47.0 per cent with its 2017 schedule up 6.8 per cent on last year’s offer, based on published schedules. This has grown available capacity to just shy of ten million seats (9.78 million). With the latest schedule announcements its winter programme will once again offer over six million seats for the third successive year.

Finnair now has a pretty even 50/50 split between local and transit traffic flows supported by its clever ‘via HEL’ marketing in association with Finnish airport operator Finavia. Schedule data from intelligence provider OAG shows that out of its Helsinki hub its network has a 20/80 split between domestic and international flights (from 25/75 ten years ago) with its largest international markets by capacity being Sweden, Germany, United Kingdom, France and Spain. The important value of its Asian network, well supported by its geographical position for transfer traffic via Helsinki, means China and Japan are its sixth and seventh largest international markets with around 300,000 annual seats.

Last year, Finnair offered flights to 44 countries, up from 37 in 2007. New international markets have included Bulgaria, Croatia, Israel, South Korea, Turkey and Vietnam. Comparing its 2016 and 2015 schedules the largest growth has been seen in Republic of Ireland (up 76.7 per cent), Malta (up 53.4 per cent), Portugal (up 44.4 per cent), Israel (up 40.5 per cent) and USA (up 29.7 per cent).

Richard Maslen

Richard Maslen has travelled across the globe to report on developments in the aviation sector as airlines and airports have continued to evolve and…