Separate journeys and crossing paths – how identical twins became Finnair pilots
Juuso Sillanmäki watched from the roof of a warehouse where he was working as his identical twin Jesse Sillanmäki prepared to land a plane a runway at Helsinki Airport below. It was the moment Juuso knew he was going to become a pilot, just like his brother.
Jesse and Juuso Sillanmäki grew up in Nokia, which is close to the Pirkkala military base in southern Finland. Cooling off outside after taking a family sauna as kids, the boys could see the lights in the sky coming from the aircraft. “I remember those moments, but the idea that I could actually fly planes only came much later,” Jesse says.
After graduating high school, both boys did their military training at the Utti base in Eastern Finland, where they both trained as paratroopers. “That meant jumping out of helicopters and sliding down ropes and things like that, so it really evolved from there, “Juuso says. Both brothers say that paratrooper training was another important step on the path to becoming pilots. And it’s here that those paths diverged. But not for long.
Two separate journeys lead to Finnair
After the military, Jesse applied to the Finnish Aviation Academy to start training as a pilot and Juuso headed to Australia with a friend to surf. When he got back, Juuso studied civil engineering and worked at a warehouse that was being built right next to Helsinki Airport. He spent a lot of time up on the roof where he watched Jesse land on the runway below.
“It was up there that I decided I wanted to be a pilot, too,” Juuso says. He applied to the same flight school as Jesse and graduated three years after his brother. Since Finnair wasn’t hiring new pilots back then, both twins had to find other work after flight school.
Jesse went back to Nokia to fly small planes out of the airport in Pirkkala. It wasn’t the most glamourous job, but it was fun. “I was doing things like counting moose in the forest, dropping oral vaccines for animals, counting seals along the coastline, and measuring air quality – sometimes like 60 meters from the ground,” Jesse says. Juuso, for his part, got a job at Ryanair flying all over Europe.
In 2016, the twins were both finally recruited to Finnair, coincidentally in the same sequence as their birth. “Jesse was born 13 minutes before me and he was the name right in front of mine on the list when we were recruited,” Juuso says.
The high-five moment of two brothers in the air
Today, Juuso flies Airbus A330s and A350s and Jesse flies A320s and A330s. Previously, Jesse also worked as a Cruise Relief co-pilot in the A350. If you’re wondering if they ever fly together, that’s only happened once so far, on a flight from Helsinki to Bangkok. Noticing that they were scheduled to fly on similar dates, they asked another pilot to switch flights with Jesse so they could fly together. Before takeoff, the captain, who had trained the twins, said: “Ok guys, I’m not going to be able to tell you apart, so no tricks today.”
The flight went well, and it was a moment – or more like 12 hours – to remember. “It was like those separate paths we’d taken really came together on that flight,” Juuso says. “From me watching Jesse fly over the cargo warehouse to flying an Airbus A350 to Thailand together, it was definitely a high-five moment,” Juuso says.
It’s now been seven years since the twins became Finnair pilots and they both love what they do. “There are so many people who retire from Finnair after spending 30 or 40 years here,” Jesse says. And that, both brothers say, is a testament to Finnair’s hundred-year history and strong community of over 850 pilots.
But there’s one downside to working in the sky. “When you spend 10 hours in a small cockpit, you can have really deep conversations where you share a lot of details about your life,” Juuso says. But because the crews are constantly changing, it might be months or even years before you run into the same crew members on another flight. “Sometimes it’s hard not being able to continue where you left off,” Jesse says.
Luckily, Jesse and Juuso Sillanmäki know better than most that if you wait long enough, many paths have a funny way of crossing again at some point in the journey.
Text by Lissu Moulton
Photos by Satu Kemppainen