Business Profiles

How you deal with people: Finavia


What is important, when it comes to airport management? This was the question posed to CEO of Finavia, Kari Savolainen, who revealed that smooth operations in the airport industry are not all about planes and terminals.

Kari Savolainen is captain of a business that owns and manages Handling everything connected to making the process of arriving, boarding and flying to a destination as smooth and expedient as possible is no mean feat.

“Finavia provides a gateway between Europe and Asia,” Savolainen explains, “Finavia provides airport and air navigation services to facilitate smooth air traffic. We maintain and develop our network of 22 airports and Finland’s air navigation systems.”

In addition, Finavia security checks passengers and luggage, keeps the runways in working condition and ensures safe take offs and landings. Their mission, Savolainen explains, is to create industry standards for competitiveness, mobility and international reach of the Finnish society by providing their customers with safe, high quality and cost effective air traffic services, “It is important that we always operate in an environmentally sustainable manner.”

Helsinki Airport is the leading transit airport in Northern Europe for long-haul traffic and it connects Europe and Asia, via the shortest route. Thanks to transit travel, Helsinki Airport provides exceptionally comprehensive flight connections and given the population of Finland, over 20 million passengers fly via Finavia’s 22 airports, yearly. Helsinki Airport is definitely seeing the bulk of this. To put it into perspective; in 2015, Helsinki Airport served over 16 million passengers of that 20 million.

A public limited company that is entirely owned by the Finnish State, Finavia services a swathe of customers in the airport and air flight industry. Airlines, aviation sector operators and passengers all rely on their services in one way or another.

“Our vision is to be a profitably growing, internationally-oriented and well managed service company,” he says, “And the fulfilment of our service mission in an economically sustainable manner requires Helsinki Airport to be successful in Asian transit travel,”

Helsinki Airport’s position as a leading transit airport considerably strengthens Finland’s direct connections to and from the world. Helsinki Airport also has a significant role in financing the airport network of the rest of Finland, meaning that looking after the success factors of Helsinki Airport is vitally important, strategically. At the same time, it is essential for Finavia to ensure the operability of the airport network and to develop its efficiency in order to maintain competitiveness.

The Human Element

Savolainen reveals that there are over 2,200 people working with Finavia, who are the direct ambassadors of the various services they offer, brought in to offer a Finnish dialect for Finnish passengers.

“Over and above this, we also have two daughter companies; one deals with the ground handling at the airports and the other handles our real estate section, which includes adjacent hotels and services at the airports,” he says.

According to Savolainen, the human element in Finavia is absolutely crucial to the business as a whole and as a corporation, a great deal of time and attention is placed on the professional development of their staff. This includes working hand in hand with their chosen representatives.

“It is important to work and collaborate with the unions,” he says, “And to also listen to what they have to say and work to understand them. They are the voice of the staff and are there to make sure that everyone is happy. Happy unions, equal happy staff and, happy staff equals a better business.”

Internal training is important, not only for those in the pipeline for management- who are shaped in the system step-by-step, but also for the blue collar workers who are trained and retrained in their jobs. There is scope for internal promotion and a strong emphasis on empowering people to make good decisions.

“Their professional development is important to us,” he adds, “That way, employee development is a large part of our company strategy.”

 A Strong Customer Focus

As an airport and airline services company, 60% of Finavia’s revenue comes directly from the airlines to which they offer services, while 40% comes from the passengers. However. as far as profit contribution is concerned, it flips it completely around as Savolainen explains.

“We are a travel hub and it is important that passengers are treated well,” he says, “Let’s not forget that the airlines may fly the passengers, but they use our services and the local infrastructure of the businesses surrounding the airports to get here, check in, get comfortable and start their journeys.”

New Developments

Savolainen reveals that Finavia have very ambitious plans for the future and that these plans have already been put into action, “We are preparing Helsinki to cater for 20 million annual passengers by 2020,” he says.

The Helsinki Airport is going through a large-scale expansion that aims to improve the airport’s facilities as well as strengthen its competitive position among the big European airports. The improvements are expected to take several years and Savolainen tells us that they’ve been working on them already for two years and things are going well.

The development programme for the Helsinki Airport was launched in spring 2014, with the aim of major improvements being made in the airport’s services, facilities and traffic arrangements by 2020. The 64-year-old airport is going through its seventh expansion project, with heavy investments and an overall budget for the project of €900 million.

“Over its lengthy history, the Helsinki Airport has been recognised with multiple awards and nominations that we take pride in. Through strategic planning, the airport has become the leading North-European airport and an important hub for layovers between Europe and Asia,” he says.

In Europe, the Helsinki Airport has the most routes to Japan and comes in fifth in the number of Asian departures in a week. Currently, the Chinese are one of the biggest groups of passengers that pass through the Helsinki Airport and the number of Chinese nationals visiting the airport increased by 100,000 from 2014.

The airport’s direct routes fly people to 135 destinations around the world. In addition to the extensive connection network, the airport prides itself with offering one of Europe’s best services. The Helsinki Airport’s already Scandinavian style will be highlighted through the renovations and a multitude of services, such as free Wi-Fi, art galleries and sleeping pods will also be available.

“In Developing the Helsinki Airport, we have kept Finnish design and architecture in mind. The use of glass and wooden elements brings lightness and a natural atmosphere into the terminal,” describes head designer Tuomas Silvennoinen of PES Architects.

Striving For The Best Customer Experience

Striving for top quality in design, facilities and services ensures a pleasant travelling experience for all passengers. The Helsinki Airport has a wide range of shops, restaurants and cafes that make it not just a quick transit hub, but rather, a place where each day numerous passengers from around the world can relax and look for facilities and services to pass time in between flights. By 2020, the Helsinki Airport expects to provide services for 20 million passengers annually.

Savolainen explains that while this is not the first renovation of the airport, it is by far the biggest. In 2015, the airport went through its largest service revamp to date, as 70 totally new or renewed cafés, restaurants and shops were opened. The airport has a very high reliability record in terms of baggage handling, transfer flights, short in-transit times and so-called “snow-how” knowledge.

The current major renovation project will be carried out gradually. The terminal areas will be increased by 45% and the capacity for baggage handling by 50%. In June 2016, the waiting area for non-Schengen will be expanded and the capacity of the border and transit passenger controls will be increased.

The Helsinki Airport was opened in 1952 to facilitate the Helsinki Olympics that year. Upon opening, the airport had one runway and a wooden terminal building, built for temporary use. The current terminal building was opened in 1969 and since then has gone through several renovations. Today, the airport has three runways in use.

“We are currently expanding the main airport in Finland, which serves 16 million passengers a year, but it will take 20 million by 2020. This constitutes a major development not only of the terminals built, but also the infrastructure to handle such a large influx. Project developments like this swell outwards and have a ripple effect. You enlarge the terminal to handle more people, but then you need to enlarge parking facilities for vehicles and open more entrances and exits to already established infrastructure, such as roads.”

At a cost of €900 million, this represents a massive undertaking by Finavia who are small in comparison with an annual revenue of some €353 million. Savolainen explains that they’ve had to be very finicky and specific with their budget spend. As such, after two years, things have progressed well without any major hiccups. They’ve even been able to save money in some areas and are therefore on budget still.

Despite this vast renovation, Finavia recently won a SkyTrax Award, which is representative of passengers’ opinions and Savolainen highlights that this is a result of their careful strategy:

“The question was how to keep the passengers satisfied,” he explains, “Especially as some of the cafeterias and coffee houses were closed during the refurbishment. The answer is to be honest and admit that there is construction going on and then compensate to keep the passengers satisfied. This could be something as obvious as ensuring that some of the noisier work is done in the evenings when traffic is lighter- of course this costs more, but it pays dividends with the passengers.”

“After all,” he adds, “We are in the service industry and the service industry is all about how we deal with people.”