We catch up with Andrew Fish, general manager for the UK, Ireland & Benelux at Finnair, to learn more about the carrier’s focus on sustainable, profitable growth.
Finland is one of the most environmentally focused countries in the world, and its flag carrier Finnair is no different – the airline has a robust sustainability agenda.
This includes initiatives such as investing in new aircraft with fewer emissions, improving fuel efficiency, the use of biofuels and taking part in a feasibility study to produce carbon-neutral fuels.
“Our target is to become a carbon-neutral airline. We are always looking for new ways to reduce our CO2 emissions,” Fish explains.
Excitingly, this also includes ground-breaking research into electric aviation.
“Finnair is a member of the Nordic Network for Electric Aviation, which is looking at ways to develop electric flying for short- haul,” Fish explains.
The network brings together Nordic airlines and other aviation stakeholders, facilitating collaboration within the industry, business modelling and infrastructure.
From the cabin perspective, Finnair has set long-term targets to improve sustainability in several areas. Reducing single-use plastics and improving plastic recycling are both part of this. Fish says the airline has certainly become more sustainable onboard. “We are now working with more sustainable materials and have reduced plastic waste by around 4,500kg just by removing plastic wrapping from our amenity kits,” he explains.
Regarding CO2 emissions, Fish notes reducing weight onboard will naturally result in less fuel burn, which in turn leads to lower emissions. “We are working on what we call the ‘Weight Watchers’ programme for our aircraft, which involves finding different ways to reduce weight in the cabin.”
Boost for the British Isles
Finnair specialises in air traffic between Asia and Europe, providing fast connections to Asian megacities. This rapidly growing region is a key market for the airline, but the carrier is also seeing fast growth in Europe, especially on routes to and from the British Isles.
“This market is very important for us,” Fish explains, continuing that from a growth perspective, it is doing very well, with around 16 per cent passenger growth for the UK.
“Anyone who regularly flies with us sees there are not many empty seats on our flights,” Fish says. “Currently, Heathrow has seven daily flights, including one codeshare with British Airways, and all those flights are generally pretty full, with a passenger load factor between 85–90 per cent.”
The airline has also seen growth on its Edinburgh and Manchester routes. “Edinburgh has seen a passenger increase of over 40 per cent, with the addition of year-round service and new Jan-Mar rotations. The capacity increase for Edinburgh in 2019 was 22 per cent.
With Manchester, we haven’t added any more rotations but, through upgauging narrowbody aircraft, we have seen an increase of 17 per cent in capacity growth over the course of 2019.” Elsewhere, Dublin has seen a capacity increase of 18 per cent.
Fish says that generally, Finnair’s Asia routes connecting in Helsinki tend to be the most popular routes from the UK and Ireland. “Up to 60 per cent of our traffic is transit traffic. Our destinations in Japan are very popular.
We are the largest European carrier when it comes to routes between Europe and Japan and have just added a fifth destination, Sapporo,” Fish notes, adding he will visit the destination soon to witness what is said to be the best powder snow in the world for skiing. Finnair is currently the only European airline to operate direct scheduled flights between Sapporo and Europe.
Has Brexit brought any issues for the airline? “I think the challenges revolve around not knowing for certain what’s going to happen. Of course, it’s the same for any business.” Interestingly, Finnair has taken a so-called ‘Brexit Bet’ and actually increased capacity in the UK, which has been a success so far.
“Brexit was planned to happen on 31 March last year and that was around the time when we actually increased capacity for the UK. We upgauged to widebody aircraft and now have two widebodies feeding our Asian flights from London, with one flight in the morning and another in the evening. This allows passengers to travel on a widebody aircraft throughout their journey to Asia, with just a short stopover in Helsinki.”
When it comes to catering onboard, Finnair has worked with many acclaimed chefs, and has recently launched new business class menus for its long-haul routes to China and the US. On its China routes, Finnair is collaborating with chef DeAille Tam to bring modern and fresh Chinese flavours to customers travelling to Helsinki.
The menu includes dishes such as drunken prawn starter with tomato gelée, peas, taro crisp and garlic crema, and a ribeye steak main with black pepper jam, caramelised honey, pickled Chinese pepper, sweet potato and watercress nage.
For its US routes, Finnair has teamed up with Chicago-based chef David Posey to serve dishes with flavours inspired by his Scandinavian heritage. The menu incorporates classic and simple ingredients to provide bold flavours and includes items such as a root vegetable appetiser and a pork neck entrée.
Concepts for the future
So, what’s next for the airline? Fish shares an exciting development in the works – Finnair’s new Premium Economy class. “We will be introducing this across our long-haul fleet towards the end of 2020 and all our long-haul aircraft should be fitted with it during 2021. The concept is still being worked on, but we will release more details soon,” Fish concludes.