Finnish airport operator Finavia expects its home carrier Finnair to disclose a raft of new long-haul routes over the coming months, for operation with a new fleet of Airbus A350s.

The Helsinki-based carrier will take four A350s this year and will deploy them on routes to Beijing, Hong Kong, Bangkok and Shanghai. Timo Jarvela, Finavia's head of accounts and route development, tells Flightglobal he foresees the carrier announcing additional, new long-haul routes for summer 2016 "probably the next couple of months or during this summer".

Finnair will become the first European carrier to operate A350s when it receives its first aircraft in October and Jarvela says the new routes are likely to be currently unserved Asian routes, given Finnair's strategy of "looking East".

And while some of the aircraft will be used for fleet renewal, Jarvela says the new deliveries will allow Finnair and by extension Helsinki to start growing "quite strongly once again" from next year. He predicts that Helsinki will accelerate its annual passenger growth from 1-2% this year to 7-8% in 2016, representing close to one million extra passengers.

Additionally, the network executive expects Chinese carriers to begin operating to Helsinki in the "nearby frame" but adds that this is proving a "big challenge" to achieve because no Chinese carriers are part of the Oneworld alliance of which Finnair is a member.

Helsinki airport will begin an expansion of its international terminal next year and although its new capacity is still dependent on upcoming "investment decisions", Jarvela says it will involve the doubling of non-Schengen widebody gates from eight to 16.

Jarvela says one of the main conclusions reached in Scandinavian country's recently published air transport strategy for the period 2015-2030 was that the regions of Finland need to do more to promote regional route development.

"The regions are the key drivers, and they do have their own responsibility for the air service development; it is not only the airport," he says, adding: "The regions must do, together with us, the work they must put some resources [in] as well”.

Currently, Helsinki is the only profitable airport in the Finavia group and while Jarvela concedes that some of its smaller airports will "never, ever be profitable", gateways handling more than one million passengers could, potentially. He points to positive developments such as a newly announced seasonal route between Munich and the Lappish airport of Kittila. That, he says, is the result of recent co-operation between Finavia and regional and national agencies.

Source: Cirium Dashboard