The father and son at the heart of Finnair Technical Services
Jouni Pääkkö has always loved to work with his hands. After a childhood spent building and flying model airplanes, a career in aircraft engineering at Finnair Technical Services was a natural fit. But it didn’t come easy. And it wouldn’t come easy for his son Jesse Pääkkö either. Today, father and son work side by side servicing Finnair aircraft in Helsinki Airport’s hangar 7.
Jouni Pääkkö was 15 years old when lightning struck. Standing in front of his ninth-grade guidance counselor, Jouni found himself faced with one of life’s biggest questions: “What do I want to do for a living?” He walked over to a shelf filled with books and brochures on different professions and pulled one out. “It felt like a bolt of lightning was telling me ‘This is it’,” Jouni says.
As a child growing up in Haapavesi, a small town about 500 kilometres northwest of Helsinki, Jouni loved building and flying model airplanes. “The whole ceiling in my bedroom was covered with them,” he says. So when he pulled that book off the shelf in the ninth grade and read the words “Wihuri Vocational School” and “aircraft mechanics programme,” he told his teacher that’s what he wanted to do. The teacher looked at Jouni, cleared his throat and said: “Well, that’s an extremely demanding profession and I don’t think you’re up for it.”
A few weeks later, the same teacher asked if Jouni had given it some thought and changed his mind. He hadn’t. So the teacher took out a small piece of paper and wrote down all of the training courses it would take to become an aircraft mechanic and engineer. Jouni took that paper home and stapled it to bookshelf under all of those model planes. “And then I completed every course on the list,” Jouni says.
“Wow, he knows how to fix planes”
In the 36 years since becoming a licensed aircraft engineer, Jouni has serviced everything from Air Force fighter jets to Finnair’s fleet and other carriers’ flights during their stays in Helsinki. Today, he’s an operational duty manager at Finnair Technical Services, a position he’s held since 2012. But in the late 1990s, Jouni did a lot of work filling in for local mechanics at other airports around Finland. And that’s where lightning struck for his son, Jesse Pääkkö.
Jesse and his big brother Samu-Petteri would often tag along with their dad to work, watching wide-eyed as he washed and serviced the planes. “I remember thinking how big the planes looked and how cool it was to get to go into the cockpit with my father,” Jesse says. “And I remember looking up to my dad and thinking ‘Wow, he knows how to fix planes, he must know everything!’” It was in those moments that Jesse realised what his father had all those years earlier. He was going to be an aircraft engineer, just like his dad.
Jouni told Jesse the same thing that his old teacher had told him. If he wanted to do this, it wasn’t going to be easy. And it wasn’t.
The first time Jesse applied to study aircraft maintenance, he wasn’t accepted. The next time he tried, he was. While completing his studies, Jesse worked summers and interned doing aircraft maintenance at Finnair Technical Services.
Taking the world of planes at home
Today, Jesse works alongside his father Jouni in hangar 7, the largest at Helsinki Airport. It was also there that Jesse met another important person in his life, wife Kiira Pääkkö. Kiira, who is a trained mechanical engineer and aircraft engineer, works in Finnair’s catering department, not too far from hangar 7.
Jesse and Kiira don’t have kids yet, but if and when they do, one thing is for sure. “I’m sure we’ll build plenty of model planes,” Jesse says. Just like the ones Jouni built back in Haapavesi. And like the ones Jesse and his brother built growing up in Porvoo, around 35 kilometres from both downtown Helsinki and the airport. “One of those little wooden planes is still hanging up in my garage,” Jouni says with a smile.