The Finnish aviation business is on the brink of collapse after half a year of pandemic, closures and restrictions on the movement of people. Finland, which has been one of the countries least hit in health terms, is nevertheless being greatly affected by the resulting economic recession.
The country has adopted one of the most restrictive policies towards the rest of the world, tolerating only very low risk levels when it comes to allowing the entry of visitors without quarantine: its reference value is a maximum of 8 (exceptionally 10) infections per 100,000 inhabitants in the last two weeks. Exchanges with countries with higher rates are subject to restrictions such as quarantines or mandatory tests upon arrival.
The result is that only citizens of a dozen countries can think of traveling to Finland without having to undergo tests or quarantines. Meanwhile, at home the transport and tourism sectors are dying due to the lack of customers.
Finnish flag carrier Finnair recently announced plans to dismiss 1,000 employees and the airport ground services firm Swissport Finland said it also aimed to cut nearly 700 jobs.
Vantaa city mayor Ritva Viljanen said last week that up to 10,000 people with jobs linked to Helsinki Airport are at risk of unemployment. And for weeks businessmen from all over the country, especially from Lapland, have been appealing for help to the Government to save the winter tourist campaign.
In this context, Finnair and the main Finnish airport operator (Finavia) on Tuesday published traffic performance figures confirming the seriousness of the situation.
In August, the Finnish flag carrier transported 193,000 passengers, which is 85.8% less than in the corresponding period of 2019. This is a disastrous fall, and even more so if one takes into account that August is for many countries the main holiday month. However, this bad record is still an improvement of 32.9% compared to July, when the decrease in the incidence of Covid-19 led to a certain degree of reopening after a very difficult spring.
The poor performance of the business is visible in all markets. According to a press release, Finnair operated 116 daily flights (including cargo) on average, which is just 31.8% compared to August 2019. Passenger numbers decreased in Asian traffic by 96.4%, in North Atlantic traffic by 100%, in European traffic by 84.9% and in domestic traffic by 69.5%.
Figures released by Finavia regarding the performance of Finnish airports show a similar evolution. Helsinki-Vantaa had 270,000 passengers in August, which was 87% less than in the same month last year. For all Finnish airports, the drop in August was 85%. The volume of cargo at Finland's main airport also fell by 54% in August.
"Elsewhere in Europe, the drop in passenger numbers was much smaller," Finavia says in a press release. In Europe, passenger numbers fell by an average of 65% in August, according to the figures provided by the company.
"Passenger numbers, which started to grow well in July, turned to a clear decline in mid-August due to the new strict travel restrictions. We estimate that the situation in the autumn will look gloomier than in August. Flights that are important to the Finnish economy - such as export promotion and other business travel as well as international tourism - are at a standstill. There are hardly any connections available," regrets Kimmo Mäki, CEO of Finavia.
Mäki is concerned that if the pandemic continues, Finland is in danger of losing the good position it had achieved as an air hub, especially between Europe and Asia.
"We can't afford that. When passenger numbers are so low, Finland loses income and jobs. Air transport has significant multiplier effects on the tourism, services and construction sectors, among others," he says.
Air traffic employs more than 100,000 people in Finland. Around 20,000 people and 1,500 companies operate at Helsinki-Vantaa Airport. Tourism and air traffic represent 2.6% of Finland's GDP. As of January, there were still 200 direct destinations within reach of Finland around the world. In September, about 40 destinations remain.