Finnair Trades on Great Circle Advantage

 - June 12, 2007, 11:13 AM

Finnair is a CFM customer with a very real but little-known success story, which is contributing in a major way to more efficient travel. Over the past few years, the Nordic carrier has found that demand has surged for services from smaller European cities to Asia via Helsinki, as Internet booking engines and computer reservation systems place it at the top of search results for routes to Asia. It maintains that passengers can save two to three hours by not dog-legging through traditional mega hubs such as London, Paris or Amsterdam.

The secret is that Finland’s capital, Helsinki, lies close to the ideal “great circle” route from western Europe to Asia, and computerized systems have reintroduced travelers to the fact that the world is round. Finnair has even taken to handing out inflatable globes to reinforce its point.

For example, a Stockholm-to-Shanghai trip takes 10 hours 25 minutes on a Finnair flight, compared to 13 hours 45 minutes via Amsterdam–the next best option.
The growth of Finnair’s Asian routes since 2001 has been astounding, compared to its single route to the U.S., which is to New York with five flights a week. Overall, its Asia traffic is set to grow by 30 percent this year and it is now the third largest airline operating to Japan and mainland China from Europe–bigger even than British Airways. The vast majority of passengers on the Asia routes–some 90 percent–transit through Helsinki.

Helsinki has the added advantage of “three runways and no bottlenecks,” said an airline spokesman, who added that the airline is phasing out its old McDonnell Douglas MD-11s and replacing them with CFM-powered Airbus A340s by 2011. They will join its fleet of 29 CFM56-powered Airbus A320s, which has an average age of four years.