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Getting Finnair's cabin crew and pilots ready for the ramp up

With the possibility of restrictions easing around the globe, Finnair is already hard at work getting its cabin crew and pilots primed for a return to the skies. 

Finnair pilot and cabin crew at Helsinki Vantaa airport

While some have continued working throughout the coronavirus pandemic, most have been on leave. That means that before the ramp up begins, Finnair cabin crew and pilots will undergo training to ensure they’re up to speed with the latest developments when it comes to keeping customers safe while coronavirus is still with us. It’s also vital that all crew have refresher training so that their skills remain at the high level they were before the start of the crisis.

Cabin crew get ready for the ramp up

Hanna Paananen, Head of Cabin Crew Development, Finnair, says that of 2,500 cabin crew employed by Finnair, only around 200 have continued to work over the past year. Finnair is now starting to prepare for the possible growth of summer traffic by training more cabin crew members, so when traffic begins to grow, they’ll be ready to take to the air.

“Every cabin crew member has to complete an annual training in a 12 month-cycle to maintain a qualification for flying. When a cabin crew member has been absent for a while and the validity period has expired, they need to attend four days of safety training. In addition to that, they will have eight hours of e-learning,” says Hanna. “That’s quite a strong package regarding safety on board. Those four days are really hands-on. There’s door training, pilot incapacitation drills, smoke and fire drills and first aid training.”

Crew are also kept up to date with the latest Covid guidelines via a dedicated smartphone app, as well as Finnair’s ‘Pandemic Guide for Cabin’.

“Crew can check the app before customers board the flight and get updated information about Covid,” explains Hanna. “We are following the instructions of the Finnish Institute of Health and Welfare and all of their recommendations and of course all of the local regulations at the destinations we are flying to as well.” 

Many of Finnair’s crew have spent the past year working as teachers or nurses, helping out with the Covid vaccination program and packing groceries of those in need. Some have spent time studying. It is, says Hanna, testament to their attitude that they haven’t let this challenging time get them down.

“I feel very proud of our people,” she says. “They’ve remained very active, taken life in their own hands and not just waited for the call. They are all missing flying though and can’t wait to get back in the air.”

When they do, Hanna says that they and Finnair’s customers will be able to fly with confidence. “If our cabin crew feel confident, our customers do too.” With crew wearing face masks and disposable gloves and an even greater focus on health and hygiene than before, customers can feel confident whenever they take a Finnair flight.

Getting pilots primed

Of course, many pilots have also been unable to work over the past year. Over the winter, around 700 of Finnair’s 950 pilots have been absent, says Juho Sinkkonen, Head of Training. 

“The length of absence varies a lot,” he says. “For short haul pilots, the absences have been longer. Some have been absent since February and March 2020, from the start of the Covid pandemic. For long haul, the situation is better because we’ve been doing cargo flights, so the absences are shorter, six months or so. Some have been working, then having a period of layoff then back working again. There is a big need to customize training based on individual needs and individual absence patterns.”

The good news is that Finnair has experience of pilots returning to work after long absences, whether due to sickness or parental leave. However, as Juho explains, these were only ever single cases, rather than hundreds of crew members requiring training at the same time to make sure they meet strict safety standards.

“Every time a pilot returns to work we assess their needs and then, based on the length of absence, we give them a certain amount of training. We have a baseline program for pilots that have been absent for less than six months, then another one for absences between six and 12 months and another for over a year. The training programs for shorter absences include theoretical training, so we have e-learning, and also training conducted in our simulators.” 

For pilots who haven’t racked up any flying hours for over a year, the process is more stringent. “Sometimes the absences have been so long that we also have some line training,” says Juho. “So when the pilot returns to the cockpit, they will not be alone or with a regular crew, but with an instructor who can support and guide them.”

Because of the number of pilots that are returning to work after absences, Juho and his team have had to get creative in how they approach training.

“In a normal situation, when a pilot returns, we have two chief flight instructors who are responsible for customizing the training both in short and long haul. They would customize their approach based on individual needs. Now, because we have a lot of pilots returning, we can’t customize manually for every individual pilot. We have developed a digital tool for these purposes. Our chief instructors are behind it and it takes into account the absence patterns of the pilots in question and recommends a certain training program.”

This agile approach means that Juho can start to plan for the future, although he’s under no illusions that things can change quickly.

“We are still waiting for restrictions to be lifted and trying to schedule training to best meet the needs of Finnair,” he says. “Some training has already started and volumes are picking up slowly, but the situation is very dynamic.”

Whether it’s in the cockpit or cabin, training is at the core of getting Finnair ready for the ramp up. And the good news is that once things do start to ease, all staff will have had the necessary help to make sure that Finnair is primed to take its customers wherever they want to go.


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