Air Service One talks with Marja Aalto, Aviation Senior Specialist, Business Tampere
What has been the biggest challenge for you regarding air service development during the pandemic?
The overall situation in Finland. After the pandemic started, travelling by air has been totally paralyzed and also the recovery has been much slower than elsewhere in Europe. Finland is located in a remote area of Europe and is isolated from the continent. Our international accessibility is dependent on our air connections. Because there are not so many Finns, we have a lack of volume to raise enough natural demand to be able to increase travelling as much as it would have been needed for example to re-launch the flights to regional airports quicker. We need to get our international connections and international incoming travellers for full recovery.
What were the key features that persuaded airBaltic to decide to open a base, with six new routes, at Tampere starting in May?
As we have been working together for several years, they are aware of the region’s economic development and the position in Finland as a strong second biggest growth area. Tampere is growing fast also with its population, and we have lots of international companies located here in the region that need good international connections.
Tampere’s location is perfect for being able to have direct connections to Europe, as our catchment area is the largest one in Finland with reasonable distance and good connections by rail and road. After the pandemic, it is the perfect time for opening the base in Tampere and use the opportunities that Finland’s second airport offers for intra-European traveling.
These connections are also connecting Tampere to the whole world with only one flight change, as airBaltic co-operates with Lufthansa and SAS, and we will have direct flights to Copenhagen, Frankfurt and Munich which are huge hub airports with global networks.
Is the fact that Tampere is less than two hours by train from downtown Helsinki a good thing or a bad thing when it comes to attracting new air services?
It has its good and not so good sides. It depends so much on what traffic we are talking about – most of the time it is good to have the main airport only within two hours travelling as it gives us so much more opportunities with our accessibility, for example to events.
Helsinki Airport is concentrating on its long-haul Asian strategy and hopefully will get back its strong position as a transfer point between Europe and Asia. Here in Tampere, we are more focusing on the intra-European market and for Finland our position is excellent for easy and smooth traveling without long waiting times and queues in big airport. We want to profile ourselves as a gateway between the rest of the Europe and Finland and be the home airport for most of the Finnish people living in central Finland. Our role is to support the national development and I believe that our growth and success here in Tampere is good for growth and success for Helsinki Airport.
Among Europe’s (U)LCCs, so far only Ryanair has served Tampere regularly. In 2011, Ryanair operated 13 routes from the airport and has served 18 destinations in total since 2006. What can you do to grow this segment of the market?
We have a good relationship with Ryanair and they are still operating from Tampere. Times were so different when they had 13 routes from Tampere and a lot has happened since. We have also developed our strategy here in the region and give more focus on route development and sustainability and stability for the route development. As a small regional airport, we are not able to get and hold everything, but we need to focus on the ones that are the most important. Hopefully, after the pandemic time we will be able to welcome also more routes with our main low-cost carrier Ryanair, but the strategic backbone for the regional development is to offer core connections to international network for our business life and travellers.
What infrastructure developments have you made in recent years and how important are these for attracting new services?
Finavia, who is the owner of the airport, has invested a lot in the infrastructure at Tampere Airport. During the last few years Finavia has invested over 17 million Euros for upgrading the airport facilities and infrastructure to be able to handle more traffic and versatile operations. It is really important to have proper infrastructure at the airport.
All-time favourite aircraft?
Boeing 757. (Who would have guessed :D) The most trustworthy aircraft I had an honour to work with more than ten years. The new Airbus 220 has been my “new love” for the last ten years and is inheriting the favourite place, but the 757 will always have special place in my heart.
Hardest to remember three-letter airport code?
Bergamo BGY, Italy. I am always making a same mistake and mix it with Bergen BGO, Norway. I don’t know why, but this is my Achilles heel of the airport codes. My deepest apologies to my dear friend Giacomo at BGY airport. I don’t think he appreciates it when I am messaging him about Bergen!
Most remote airport ever visited?
This is easy – Enonteki (IATA code ENF) in northern Finland. I think Enonteki is pretty remote and not that easy to access for most people. I have been planning and doing flights to quite a few “weird” airports during my life in Finnair and Air Finland, but not personally travelling to them, just virtually travelling from behind my desk.
Favourite winter sport?
Cross-country skiing. I am not doing sport as I am too lazy, but if I do, I would ski.
Favourite TV show?
All the British TV dramas like Heartbeat, Doc Martin and Hercule Poirot – I also love Keeping up Appearances. I am a bad TV watcher, so I want to keep it light whenever I have time to watch something.
Favourite place to visit in Tampere?
This is difficult – there are so many. There is one place I go at least few times a year and it’s the Nasi Park. It is almost in the middle of the city and there is the Museum Milavida in a house known as Nasi castle. I like to go to this park just to spend time, look to the lake Nasi and think of the history that park, the lake and building have seen over the centuries.
Favourite fact about Tampere (the city not the airport)?
Tampere is a promised land of stories and fun facts. One of my favourite facts is related to our tram which started to operate last August. I think it has been one of the longest processes to get the tram to Tampere. The planning started already in 1907, so actually the brand-new tram has already a history over hundred years despite the fact that it was built between 2017 and 2021 and started to operate in August 2021.