In June 1988, Finnair flew its inaugural flight from Helsinki to Beijing ? the first European airline to secure a non-stop trans-Siberian route to China.
When Finnair originally undertook a comprehensive route survey in the seventies, the Helsinki-Beijing sector was picked out as being a particularly promising one, explains Mikko Rautio, general manager of Finnair China. "For general passengers," he says, "Helsinki was the ideal half way stop-off point on the most direct route.?
Now, there are not so many Americans using the airline, largely because of the pressures of recession. And Finnair is now keen to bill itself as a European flight, with links to major European capitals.
Rautio is not phased by the stiff competition among European carriers on the route, with six European airlines now flying non-stop to Beijing. "People like to use Finnair because of its quality," he says, "and languages are a big thing for us." Its efforts have not gone unrewarded. The proportion of Finns on board has now declined from 80 to 45 per cent, and the airline has scooped a particularly healthy percentage of French passengers (15 per cent).
The demand is such that Finnair is considering adding a third weekly flight to Beijing. This would be especially needed come the peak season ? September, October, November ? but as yet, there is no talk of looking at other destinations within China.
Although Alitalia flew passengers to Shanghai until 1989, at the moment there is no European carrier running a passenger service there, although the city is an obvious second destination. According to Rautio, it would be a difficult route to secure access to.
"As regards the booming southern cities of Guangzhou and Shenzhen, these destinations are mostly used by people who are also visiting Hong Kong. With the plethora of airlines flying the short hop across the waters, offering very low rates, it would be difficult for Finnair to compete."
Finnair's only concession to looking further afield than Beijing at present is the possible training and cooperation with domestic airlines China North and China Eastern Airlines, which run similar fleets. For the time being, however, Beijing will remain the focus of the carrier's attention.
Geographical progress may not be imminent, but Finnair is still in the process of considering dramatic changes. These include the possibility of changes to its fleet and introducing the Boeing 767 to the route, in the place of the McDonnell Douglas DC-10. This, says Rautio, will lower the airline's costs, reduce fuel costs and the larger freight capacity of the 767 could also draw in more revenue. *
Finnair in Beijing: Scite Tower, 22 Jian Guo Men Wai Dajie, Beijing 100004. Tel: +86(1) 512 7180, (1) 512 7181, Fax: (1) 512 7182.