Malmi Airport gets a possible lifeline from local residents

After a citywide initiative got more than 22,200 votes, local residents are saying clearly to Helsinki City Council 'let us decide'

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File picture of vintage livery plane at Helsinki's Malmi Airport / Credit: Sampo Kiviniemi, FoMA

Helsinki’s Malmi Airport is getting a possible lifeline thanks to local residents.

The airport is slated to end commercial and private operations before the end of the year, and the land eventually redeveloped into housing.

A municipal initiative calling on Helsinki City Council to allow a referendum on the issue so that local residents can decide, gathered the required 22,200 names on Thursday morning. That figure represents 4% of Helsinki residents aged 15 and above.

Helsinki Mayor Jan Vapaavuori (NCP) is on the record saying such a vote would never happen in Helsinki, but it’s ultimately up to the whole city council to decide, and although a community referendum has never been carried out in Helsinki, they have been held more than 60 times in other parts of Finland.

“The current council is opposing anything related to Malmi, and we are considering whether to take this initiative to the current council or the next one” says Timo Hyvönen from the Friends of Malmi Airport campaign group.

Hyvönen says that although flight services are supposed to stop in December, the area won’t immediately be redeveloped for residential use. A long planning process, and then potentially appeals against the redevelopment decisions, means there would still be time to make this a local election issue for the 2021 municipal elections.

“Members of the council are opposing the vote because they know the airport would win, so they’re not letting it happen” Hyvönen tells News Now Finland.

Several dozen city council members wrote an open letter to the mayor urging him to let flight operations continue for the time being at the airport – as there is confusion among activists why it’s being closed now, when redevelopment wouldn’t even begin for several years.

Politicians opposed to any municipal ‘people’s vote’ say that councilors were elected to make decisions on behalf of constituents, and the decision to stop flight operations at Malmi has already been taken, so there is no need to revisit the issue.

Architect’s impression of what Malmi Airport will look like after redevelopment

What will happen to Malmi Airport? 

Planes have been taking off and landing at Malmi Airport since 1936, making it one of the oldest international airports in Europe in continuous use.

The City of Helsinki wants to build housing for 25,000 people on 330 hectares in the next three decades – including on the 95 hectare area where the airport facilities are located.

This would be the biggest completely new housing project planned for the capital city region.

Campaigners say the airport area has historical, cultural and environmental significance and it would be a great loss if it closes because there’s no other equivalent space within 150km to move private pilot operations.

Wildflower meadow showing Malmi Airport in the distance / Credit: FoMA