On February 10, Finnair unveiled new travel classes for its long-haul fleet. The €200 million investment should complete its rolled out by 2023 when Finnair celebrates its 100th anniversary. I had the pleasure to talk with Finnair CEO Topi Manner on the sidelines of Finnair’s new cabin product launch exclusively.

Congratulations to the stunning new cabins on your long haul fleet. They are looking very promising…

Thank you! We worked hard the past four years on this project but was delayed also related to the pandemic.

There are two things. We are introducing a new business class seat called the AirLounge which we have developed with Collin Aerospace and we are the global launch customer.

Finnair new Business Class seat
Finnair new Business Class seat

We have a completely new Seat for Premium Economy that is basically modified for us together with HAECO, which also produces the seat.

For us, it is all about connecting Europe and Asia via the shorter Northern route and therefore Finnair will continue long-haul operations as part of its strategy. The full experience, complete with renewed service concepts, will be available in spring 2022 on selected routes across Finnair’s long-haul network.

The fleet rollover within two years looks quite ambitious?

Yes, this project has been in the making for a couple of years now. Of course the pandemic has introduced additional challenges across the value chain, the sick leaves, suppliers all kinds of things like that. It is a relatively fast rollout, by the end of 2023. The time when we have our 100 years anniversary. That is effectively the plan. We working hard to deliver that, there will be consistent long haul experience, new Business Class, new Premium, refreshed Economy, the 19 A350s (including three A350s to be delivered) and eight A330s once we have the 100-year celebration. All widebody aircraft will offer high speed wifi connectivity.

Do you think the Premium Economy Class product can have a negative effect on your Business Class demand ?

We see the Premium Economy as an upgrade to Economy. We think the primary audience with Premium Economy will be the premium leisure travelers and this increasing trend for premium leisure, this is exhilarated by the pandemic.

Travelers booking better hotels than they used to do. This will be a spot-on offering for that purpose. There might be some customers regarding corporate policy they are not able to book Business Class, we might see those corporate travelers in the Premium Economy.

Finnair Premium Economy Seat
Finnair Premium Economy Seat

We are positioning ourselves as a 'more' than premium airline, the new premium is different than the old premium. The modern premium is more about, being authentic, in our case authentically Finnair or authentically Nordic. It is about sustainability, about focusing on the essential, on the choice. We want to offer that to our customers. The sale (of the new products) will start at March 1st, at the same time, there will be surprising delight upgrades for our customers, because we have some of these aircraft already available at the Helsinki hub and they will fly.

Aviation is a people's business. And I think that also our employees are very excited about the product.

Finnnair CEO Topi Manner

How is the current long-haul business doing? Your carrier relies very strongly on the Far East…

As more countries in Asia opens, we like to be ready to increase frequencies and capacity whenever is possible. Thailand, India, and Singapore are open, Japan is currently quite limited but we estimate that Japan will open gradually over the course of the summer. However, one of our main markets, China remains a question-mark regarding to the nation's zero-covid policy.

We will be ready to move fast once the Asian countries are open up for travel. In the meantime, we are adding more capacity to the Atlantic. Like Dallas, one of American Airlines' major hubs.  We are opening a route to Seattle, the hub of Alaska Airlines and then we fly from Stockholm Arlanda to the US as well, to New York JFK and Los Angeles.

But do you think there is too much capacity on the North Atlantic? This summer many other carriers shifting aircraft from Asia to these routes.

This remains to be seen. What we are also experiencing, there is a lot of pent-up demand in general, and it seems there is a lot of people visiting the U.S. As well there is a demand in the opposite, to Europe and to the Nordic, where Finnair is based. The North Atlantic during the summer will be upbeat, as there is so much demand. The time will tell, whether the demand will be bigger than the supply or the vice versa

Finnair surprised the industry last year when it announced it will base three Airbus A350-900 in Swedens capital, Stockholm Arlanda, the hub of rival Scandinavian Airlines (SAS).

The decision was a good move to a new market, but it is a little bit a different model.

As Finnair´s hub Helsinki is based on a network model, Stockholm is effectively a point-to-point long haul model in the leisure market.

Finnair CEO Topi Manner

It started with the right foot in November and there have been positive surprises for us, like Cargo from Stockholm Arlanda.

We are in it for the longer term and have published the summer schedule and we are planning the next winter. The Arlanda experience has worked according to its plan, but we are not opening up another base in Northern Europe for the time being. We are fully focused on re-building our hub in Helsinki, this is our most priority.

Are all your wide-body aircraft operating?

Finnair currently operates 65% of its capacity compared to pre-Covid levels. I expect that Finnair will operate at a bigger capacity during the summer and toward the end of 2023, we estimate Finnair will fly at a similar capacity that it has done before the pandemic. Finnair currently operates all its 16 Airbus A350-900s, some of them flying also pure cargo services. Four of our eight A330 are flying, the other aircraft are in long storage or undergoing cabin changes.

Is the worst over for Finnair?

I hope so. Many countries in Europe are lifting restrictions now. We estimate that during the second half of this year, we will be closer to a normal business environment.

Cover Image: Via Finnair