(eTN) BERLIN – Asia is an essential asset in Finnair’s development strategy as explained by Mika Vehviläinen, the airlines’ president and CEO, in an exclusive interview with eTurboNews. Finland’s national carrier is definitely not Europe’s largest airline, but it has found a perfect niche by favoring transfer traffic to and from Asia. In 2009, Finnair flew over 7.4 million passengers with half of all its total ASK (average seat/km) production being affected by Asia routes.
eTN: What does Asia represent for Finnair?
Vehviläinen: We transported last year 1.16 million passengers to and from Asia, which represents the highest source of revenue to us. Asia accounts for half of our total revenues. Our performance is rather satisfying. There are approximately over 10 million passengers a year between Europe and Asia, of which five million are flying through large hubs such as London, Frankfurt, or Paris. The five other million will be in transit by other hubs including ours in Helsinki. This is where we find our market, as Helsinki with its northern location offers the shortest flying time between Europe and Asia. From 2003 until last year, our traffic from and to Asia increaded by almost 150 percent.
eTN: How is your Asian network developing?
Vehviläinen: We currently fly to nine destinations, including three in Japan (Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya) and three in China (Beijing, Hong Kong, and Shanghai). We are among the few European airlines which continue to connect secondary cities such as Nagoya or Osaka. We are then number 5 in terms of passengers in transfer between Europe and Asia and aim to be among the 3 top carriers. Our strategy is to add new frequencies to provide a greater choice to bsuienss travelers, our main focus on Asia-Europe. We fly, for example, up to twice a day to Bangkok or daily to Tokyo. But we also look to new destinations. We are currently reconsidering the reopening of our flights to Mumbai, as we still have traffic rights. Before the crisis, we also studied services to Kuala Lumpur, which could be part of our network in the future.
eTN: Where are you most successful in transferring passengers in Europe?
Vehviläinen: We see a big surge in passenger traffic from other Scandinavian countries such as Denmark and Sweden, as our competitor SAS scaled down its operations due to its current difficulties. During the first quarter of 2010, passenger traffic from those countries increased by over 50 percent, with Sweden-Tokyo being a top runner.
eTN: Do you foresee new emerging markets for Finnair?
Vehviläinen: With Kingfisher being part of oneworld, we could develop further synergies in India. One option would be to try to boost transfer traffic between India and North America via Helsinki.
eTN: What are the other advantages you offer to passengers flying via Helsinki to and from Asia?
Vehviläinen: We operate a fleet of brand-new aircraft Airbus A330 and A340. The last MD11 retired from our fleet last February. All of our aircraft are equipped with a brand-new business class, among the best in Europe, with flat-beds and videos on demand in both economy and business class. And at Helsinki airport, our passengers benefit from a new terminal with even a spa and sauna to pamper before further flying long-haul.