“I started working here before man walked on the moon,” says Christer Forsman after 50 years at Finnair
Since the 1980s, Christer Forsman has taken care of cargo markets in Europe and Southeast Asia for Finnair Cargo. But it was in the late 1960s when Christer first joined Finnair Cargo, in the days when the company was headquartered in ‘Kuparitalo’ in Helsinki’s centre.
“On Monday, the 2nd of June 1969, at 9 am, my first task was to pick up the exchange rates from the Bank of Finland. This was done every week at the same time, I had a colleague guide me as I was a first-timer”, Christer says. “On a beautiful summer morning, we were sitting on the stairs of the bank waiting for the doors to open.”
“I carried letters and flight tickets, I visited ministries and the President’s Office. The next spring I started delivering goods in indoor environments. It was an exciting new position for a young man, working quite closely with the CEO as well.”
Christer has worked as a loader, cargo agent and cargo dispatcher at Finnair Cargo in his 50-year career. When he started his sales duties in 1989, his first task was to develop a domestic door-to-door cargo service. Airpak, as it was called, saw packages sent on the first available flight after the order was placed and delivered to the customer’s home immediately after the plane landed, in most cases within one hour.
Changes from the 1970s to the present day
Over the past five decades, work equipment has changed in air cargo, the fleet has been renewed several times and volumes of goods and flights have increased.
“In the 1970s, a lot of mail and newspapers were carried, but also the same products as today, even though they are now shipped as components. Sending clothes by plan was popular in the 60s and 70s: students living away from home sent their laundry for washing and families sent them back clean, adding in a food package from home.”
Another thing that distinguishes goods carried in Christer’s early years is that Finnair Cargo now flies enormous amounts of fresh Norwegian salmon. "We have the advantage of the easier route from northern Norway to Helsinki compared to Oslo", Christer explains.
In the 60s and 70s, calculators were like old typewriters. “Then we got electric calculators and paper receipt tape, which was a big step forward.” Regulation was strict and domestic cargo prices were approved by parliament until the 1980s, while foreign cargo prices were set by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). It was only later, when competition was liberalised that airlines could start pricing their services independently.
In the early days of Christer's career, Finnair's aircraft types were the Convair Metropolitan, DC8 and Super Caravelle. The DC8 flew the route Helsinki-Copenhagen-New York and Helsinki-Amsterdam-New York. The cargo hold was located between the cockpit and the first class, says Christer. “Cargo was carried on every flight and the cabin crew had to walk through the space where cargo was loaded, also during the flight.”
Who is a Finnair Cargo customer? What kind of an employer is Finnair?
Comparing passenger and cargo traffic, one might think that sending packages is easier because a package never complains.
But Christer knows that it’s more complicated than that: “In fact, there are four parties looking after and waiting for the shipment: the consignor and the forwarder while sending, and the consignee and the forwarder when receiving. This is the reason the package cannot miss the flight. Pre-shipment can also be a problem for the logistics: someone has to be there to meet the delivery at a certain time.”
“The work for me has always been interesting. Finnair is a good player in many aspects, if you are a bit smaller, that always allows a little bit more flexibility. We do not have direct customer requests, all shipments are made through freight forwarders, professionals who are familiar with how things work. Customer relationships are long.”
And what does he think of his long-term employer? "I have always liked my work here. The company is fair to you if you are fair to the company yourself”.
To the Turku Archipelago for holiday
During his career, Christer has participated in airline athletics competitions, football tournaments and other sports activities. In his retirement he plans to continue volunteering for elite competition organisers as a chauffeur, something that he has done for a long time. This year he will spend the summer holidays in the Turku archipelago. “I started working here before man walked on the moon”, Christer reminds me. Given his energy and enthusiasm, he could, in theory, work for another 10 years, but for now it’s time to let him fly free.
Enjoy your well-deserved retirement Chrisse and thank you!