Ramping up our network
As the world begins to modify lockdown restrictions, Finnair has been working hard to develop a new look, post-coronavirus network. Having reduced operations from our usual capacity in April, we plan to start operating services to key cities throughout Europe and Asia from July 1.
“In July, we start ramping up destinations for us here in Finland,” explains Aaron McGarvey, manager of traffic analysis in Finnair’s traffic planning team. As well as flying to major cities across Scandinavia, Germany and Switzerland between five and seven times a week, Finnair flights will operate twice daily routes from Helsinki to London, Paris and Amsterdam, with the aim of connecting customers to key hubs across Asia.
Those looking to travel further east will be able to choose from 11 weekly services to Japan, with Finnair flying to Nagoya, Osaka and Tokyo Narita, as well as services to Singapore, Seoul, Bangkok, Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. (Beijing and Shanghai are still subject to government approvals as we’re writing this.)
For domestic travellers, Finnair will operate six routes in Finland, flying to Kuopio, Mariehamn, Oulu, Rovaniemi, Turku and Vaasa. In August, flights will begin to Ivalo and Kittilä in Finnish Lapland, and in September operations start to Kuusamo and Tampere.
In August, flights will resume to New York, Finnair’s key destination in the United States.
According to McGarvey and his colleague Patrik Nyqvist, manager of short-term planning in the traffic planning team, these will be lower frequency than regular service, yet still offer connectivity for both leisure travellers and those flying for business. Transfers at Helsinki for longer flights to Asia are expected to be straightforward as usual.
In total, Finnair’s service levels will rise to approximately 20% of normal capacity in July, up from 5% in the April-June period.
Making use of smaller aircraft
These long haul routes will be served by Finnair’s Airbus A350 aircraft, while smaller, narrow body planes will be used across Europe. “At Finnair we have a very versatile fleet and that gives us an advantage,” explains Nyqvist. “It allows us to deploy smaller aircraft, so we can start ramping up slowly.”
With 70-100 seater aircraft being used initially, more capacity can be added by simply using planes with more seats, rather than starting additional services.
“We’re starting with the smaller aircraft on the shorter routes, so we have a lot of flexibility to increase seat capacity with larger planes where necessary,” adds Nyqvist. “Of course, we do have capabilities to add more flights if needed.”
The key challenge, says McGarvey, is working out how many customers will be using these new routes. With the majority of planes grounded since early April, the usual methods of developing a network based on demand have had to be adjusted, providing a new challenge for the traffic planning team.
“The traditional tools we use have become redundant,” he says. “We need to look at new ways of identifying trends. How do we juggle our fleet best?”
“We cannot rely on the normal forecasting systems as much as we would normally,” agrees Nyqvist. “So we need to rely on the trends we spot rather than being able to utilize optimization tools.
“People’s booking behaviour is very different, so we have to be working in a completely new mode.” Both Nyqvist and McGarvey expect leisure travellers as well as business customers in the medium to long term.
Such challenges will be dealt with during regular reviews, once the new Finnair traffic program launches in July. This will allow McGarvey, Nyqvist and their teams to tweak services accordingly depending on demand, as well as address any issues that arise once services are up and running.
“First of all, we will keep track of the travel restrictions that governments are imposing and adjusting accordingly,” says Nyqvist. This is vital as restrictions are being removed and some may be reinstated in different countries at varying times. “If the demand comes quicker than we anticipate, though, then we do have means to deal with that,” he adds.
The challenge of building a post coronavirus network has, however, had some positive effects. The new routes will be optimized for sustainability, an increasingly important part of Finnair’s business.
“We’re parking our older aircraft and trying to utilize our newer, more fuel efficient planes,” says McGarvey. This reimagining of fleet usage means using newer Airbus A320 family aircraft. Wherever possible, Finnair will be using planes with a lower carbon footprint than older aircraft. The fact that smaller planes are being used also means that customers can fly knowing that their environmental impact is smaller too. Finnair’s commitment to sustainability and response to the ongoing climate crisis does not stop because of coronavirus.
The main thing that Nyqvist and McGarvey emphasise is that the new routes will be consistent and stable when they launch in July.
“When we publish the traffic program, we will not be playing around with it too much. That means we can build confidence with customers and show them that the product we are promising them isn’t going to change all of a sudden,” says Nyqvist. As the world inches back towards normality, Finnair’s program gives a clear signpost of what to expect from safe and efficient travel in the future.