An interview with Kimmo Mäki, CEO Finavia. By Ross Falconer
Finland is one of the world’s hottest travel destinations. Ranked third on Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2017 list, the country (pop. 5.5m) attracted 8.3 million international visitors last year, according to Visit Finland. It is an intriguing mix of urban and rural – from the Northern Lights, to beautiful national parks and lakes, and the vibrant seaside city of Helsinki.
Robust air transport infrastructure is vital to the country’s economic prosperity. Its relative remoteness means international connectivity is a key factor, not only in tourism, but also in the growth of the electronics, engineering, manufacturing and biotechnology industries on which Finland’s economy thrives, as well as enabling these businesses to sustain their competitiveness in the global marketplace.
Finavia’s network of 21 airports experienced 11.9% growth in the first six months of 2018, handling 12.3 million passengers. Helsinki Airport served a record 10.1 million, and the direction is good not only at Finavia’s major but also its central regional airports. The figures reflect both the favourable economic situation (Finland’s GDP rose +2.6% to €224bn in 2017), and Helsinki’s strengthened position as a hub for air traffic between Europe and Asia.
Indeed, Finavia is building on this with a €1 billion investment programme to support the competitive position of Helsinki Airport. Leading these efforts is Kimmo Mäki, the new CEO of Finavia. He took the helm in January 2018, having previously been CEO of Port of Helsinki Oy for the past six years. Prior to that, he worked at Steveco Oy and Stockmann Oyj.
“It’s great to work in a company that plays a key role in the competitiveness and accessibility of Finland,” says Mäki. “My initial priorities have included starting a dialogue with our organisation and getting an understanding about the needed improvements. It has been great to see that the performance was already on such a high level, so there was no need for major changes.”
His extensive experience of the logistics industry encompassed similar challenges to those of an airport company such as Finavia, notably in terms of leading a customer-oriented service business and the successful implementation of large-scale investments. “There are a few priority principles that are important to me: to listen to and understand both your customers and organisation, never fail the trust, understand the position of your organisation in the big picture, and be humble but determined when facing new challenges,” Mäki explains.
As a key part of his Finavia familiarisation process, he aims to visit all of Finavia’s airports by the end of the year. “Only a few Lapland airports are still waiting for the winter season, in order to visit them during the hectic part of the year,” Mäki comments. “It has helped me to understand how complex our airport network is. Although the airports may seem quite similar, all of them are unique and different in many ways. We should also understand that at our headquarters. It has been a pleasure to meet the local people and to understand the important work we are doing at Finavia.”
€1bn investment programme to maintain connectivity
Helsinki Airport offers fast and smooth connections to Asia, and is Northern Europe’s leading transit airport. Indeed, Finnair recently announced it will increase frequencies on its routes from Helsinki to Osaka, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Guangzhou for the 2019 summer season.
In 2017, the number of transit passengers at Helsinki increased by 17.6%. The current €1 billion investment programme will maintain Finland’s excellent connectivity, and facilitate continued traffic growth. Helsinki welcomed 19 million travellers in 2017 (+10% year-on-year) and over 21 million are expected in 2018.
“A key priority is ensuring that the development programme at Helsinki Airport is proceeding smoothly. One of the challenges is to ensure that customers have a good travel experience during the construction period,” says Mäki. “We are growing very fast together with our airline customers and the investment programme will allow Helsinki Airport to serve 30 million passengers annually. In order to keep the good customer experience towards both airline customers and passengers, it is our top priority to succeed in the programme. Helsinki Airport’s strengths include short transfer times, friendly staff and innovative world-class services. We want to maintain these strengths, even as passenger numbers grow.”
The Helsinki Airport Development Programme will be completed in 2022, including expanding the terminal area by 45% or 103,000sqm, doubling the number of wide-body gates to 16, increasing both baggage handling and passport control capacity by 50%, renovating 450,000sqm of apron, and opening a multi-modal transport interchange.
Kimmo Mäki curriculum vitae
Kimmo Mäki (43) joined Finavia as CEO on 1 January 2018.
2011-2017: CEO, Port of Helsinki Oy
2006-2011: Senior Vice President, Steveco Oy
2003-2006: Logistics Manager, Stockmann Oyj
Positions of trust:
2018-present: Chairman of the Board, Airpro Oy and RTG Ground Handling Oy
2018-present: Chairman of the Board, Lentoasemakiinteistöt Oy
2018-present: Member of the Board, LAK Real Estate Oy
2017: Chairman of the Board, ANS Finland
2017: Chairman of the Board, Finnish Port Association
2015-2017: Chairman of the Board, Finrail Oy
A crucial stage will be reached in 2019. Finavia recently announced it will begin the expansion of Terminal 2 next spring. Meanwhile, a large central square, the Plaza, will be built between the south and west piers, becoming the heart of the extension. At the same time, a new security checkpoint for Asian transfer passengers will be opened, and later on, an expansion to the border control section. By summer 2019, the first section of the new west pier will open, including six new gates for wide-body aircraft. The rest of the pier will be finished by late-2019.
These developments are being undertaken with a strong commitment to sustainability. Indeed, Helsinki Airport is accredited at Level 3+ Neutrality of ACI’s Airport Carbon Accreditation. Meanwhile, six other Finavia airports – Enontekiö, Ivalo, Kemi-Tornio, Kittilä, Kuusamo and Rovaniemi – are accredited at Level 2 Reduction.
Looking ahead, the main priority for Mäki, and the Finavia organisation, is to implement and execute a comprehensive, customer-oriented strategy.
“We are focusing on customer experience, improving our capacity, improving our commercial services, and cooperation with our airline customers. We consider corporate responsibility in everything we do, with safety being our guiding principle. In our environmental work, we set the bar high. We promote Finnish people’s global citizenship and our activities boost the economy. We also want to be a good employer, as none of this would be possible without skilled and motivated employees.”