Communities in Finland affected by Finnair’s decision to axe summer flights are imploring the airline – and the government – to think again. Their reactions come the same day that Ryanair accuses a number of European airlines, including Finnair, of receiving “unlawful state aid.”
Finnair says it won’t be re-starting flights to a number of Finnish cities in the short term as it re-builds a schedule cut by as much as 90% during the coronavirus crisis.
The airline, in which the Finnish government is a majority stakeholder, will not operate flights this summer from Helsinki to Joensuu, Jyväskylä, Kajaani, Kemi or Kokkola, with speculation some domestic routes might be cut completely.
In a statement, Finnair says they expect air travel to “recover gradually.” In April the company flew only 2,400 passengers on domestic flights and so far in May just 1,800 passengers.
“We hope that in this exceptional situation, these cities would understand the reasons for the decision” says Mikko Turtiainen, Finnair’s Senior Vice President of Sales.
“During the summer, we will have better visibility into the recovery and focus of demand in our network, we will evaluate the winter flights to Joensuu, Jyväskylä, Kajaani, Kemi and Kokkola in August” Turtiainen adds.
Reaction from the regions
Finnair can expect an intense and sustained lobbying campaign from business communities, city leaders and politicians alike over their plans.
Finance Minister Katri Kulmuni (Centre) has already said “domestic connections should be restored as soon as possible” and criticised speculation that some domestic routes might be scrapped completely.
With 140,000 inhabitants, Jyväskylä is the largest Finnish city affected by the reduction of Finnair’s summer schedule.
“Jyväskylä is one of the fastest growing cities in Finland. We have a lot of companies doing international business for which daily flight connections are vital. We also have two big international universities, University of Jyväskylä, and University of Applied Sciences of Jyväskylä, and for them it is also important that the city has a functioning flight connection” says Timo Koiviso, Jyväskylä’s mayor.
“I understand the short term decision when corona-situation is acute but in the longer term the flight connection must be restored” he adds.
The City of Joensuu’s Development Manager Sami Laakkonen says that good flight connections from his city to Helsinki and further afield on European and global networks are “crucial” for the North Karelia region.
“Finnair’s desicion not to start Joensuu to Helsinki flights anyway before November hits our regional economy very hard. Our region is strongly dependent on industry exports, and tourism will also grow in the near future due the fact that customers are more searching smaller nature and non-crowded destinations” he tells News Now Finland.
“Our goal is to start flights as soon as possible and definitely, at the latest, from the beginning of November this year. We continue to have negotiations with Finnair and also send message to Finnish government and parliament to have talks with Finnair as a main owner of the airline company” Laakkonen says.
Ryanair criticises “unlawful state aid” for Finnair
Europe’s largest airline Ryanair, which flew 148.6 million passengers in March before coronavirus restrictions crippled the airline industry, says it is at a disadvantage when schedules start to expand again.
The Ireland-based carrier, which is advertising flights on its website from Helsinki to Vienna; from Tampere to Bremen and Budapest; and from Lappeenranta to six European destinations, says state-owned airlines get an unfair advantage.
“When Group airlines return to scheduled flying from July, the competitive landscape in Europe will be distorted by unprecedented quantums of State Aid (in breach of EU rules) under which over €30bn has been gifted to the Lufthansa Group, Air France-KLM, Alitalia, SAS and Norwegian among others. We therefore expect that traffic on reduced flight schedules will be subject to significant price discounting, and below cost selling, from these flag carriers with huge State Aid war chests” the company says in a statement.
Ryanair says that €700 million of state aid made available to Finnair recently is “unlawful.”