Europe to Urals In 3 Hours. Who Is Faster?
21.01.2010 — Analysis
The Finnish air carrier Finnair came to the Urals market in the autumn 2008. So far it is behind some European competitors in terms of volumes of passenger transportation but it is ahead of everybody in term of the share of transit passengers. Vladimir Krivokhizhin, the commercial representative of Finnair in Ekaterinburg told RusBusinessNews that it is planned to expand the client base through the main natural advantage, the shortest flight time.
- Finnair, in comparison to other European carriers, started to work in the Urals not that long ago. What are the first results on the Helsinki-Ekaterinburg-Helsinki route?
- We have started operating this flight in September 2008. Since then the number of passenger has been steadily growing every month, without a decline. On the backdrop of the global economic crisis 2009 has been rather successful for us. In the previous year we transported over 10 thousand passengers. The commercial load averaged from 67 to 73% on the Ekaterinburg route.
We have a quite acceptable pricing policies for our clients while not being a low cost carrier. Finnair simply asks for adequate payment of its services. This is dictated by economic indicators as we have the shortest flight to Europe, the flight from Ekaterinburg to Helsinki takes just 2 hours 50 minutes. No other European city is as close to the Urals capital as this. Prague is an hour further and this, of course, affect the fuel and maintenance costs. This is why we can base our pricing policies on real rather than contrived costs. Our costs are simply lower.
- When Finnair came to Ekaterinburg a large aircraft has been declared while really they fly Embraer capable of transporting 70 to 100 passengers. Does that mean that the Finnish route is not that popular in the Urals?
- When the winter timetable is in place we normally use Airbus А319 designed for 120 passenger seats. In reality the new year programmes of 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 we used the largest craft available which are possible to land in Ekaterinburg. This is A321 designed to transport 200 passengers. We have flown it six times with 100% commercial load.
In the summer we mainly fly Embraer Е-190 designed for 100 passengers. It is almost the same as А319 and А320 in terms of the number of passengers while being more comfortable as the rows have not 6 seats (3+3) but just 4 (2+2).
If we have less than 100 passengers booked for a flight we use Embraer. If we see that the sales are higher, then we fly Airbus. The Ekaterinburg flight leaves Helsinki amongst the latest, late in the evening by which time 80% of Finnair's craft are already parked. This is why we can choose the craft type just half an hour before the departure.
- So the peak of passenger transportation from the Urals falls on the new year holidays, is that so?
- Yes, it is so. We also recorded the high commercial loads when in the summer 2009 the Summit of the heads of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization member states took place in Ekaterinburg. Then before the summit we, jointly with the Finnish-Russian Chamber of Trade conducted the Days of Finland in Ekaterinburg and brought here a large delegation from Helsinki.
I would like to point out that we don't just count on tourists. Our company is focused on business, we fly to about 40 airports in Europe. So any businessman wanting to fly to or from Ekaterinburg can use our services because we offer a short flight time. This is why we have both the economy and business class seats selling well.
- What is the share of transit passengers on Ekaterinburg-Helsinki flights?
- According to the previous year's statistics this indicator turned out very high and amounted to over 70%. In is good to know that passengers find our connections easy and actively use them.
- What is the minimal time before connecting flight in Helsinki?
- 30 minutes. However, you can remain in the transit area as much as you want, depending on the client's desire. - We have a fine spa centre there. For instance, it is due to the new spa centre that our clients enjoy the 12-14 hours' connection between the flight from Ekaterinburg and the flight to New York.
- What categories of passengers use the Finnair's Ekaterinburg flight?
- According to the statistics Russian citizens living in Ekaterinburg and the Urals region dominate among the passengers. They account for 65-70%.
Many Europeans come to Ekaterinburg too. Not only Finns, but even Germans and Czechs despite having direct routs from their countries. Tour operators informed me that some passengers swapped Lufthansa for Finnair and fly to Frankfurt via Helsinki. Our company is not striving to take clients away from direct flights, we do not have special offers for Prague or Frankfurt flights. We do not want to fall out with the competition.
- Why is that?
- There is no point. We all have some piece of the market, we all want to work. Lufthansa has Frankfurt-Helsinki flight, so Germans might start doing the same thing and get in the way of our work attracting our clients by offering lower prices. I don't think we should do this kind of thing.
Some of our competitors are trying to attract passengers announcing a low price season. Sometimes it is easier to have an empty seat in the plane than perform dumping like that. Because any passenger adds to fuel and service costs in the departure and destination airports. We have a good potential for growth and for attracting passengers without resorting to dumping.
- How are you going to attract passengers?
- Improving the information, first of all. Finnair does not have that much advertising in Ekaterinburg, not many people know about the flight. Moreover, we are running a large advertising campaign in Finland promoting Ekaterinburg proper. So far this city is not very well known in Europe. Unfortunately the Urals people are not very good at advertising. Everyone in Europe knows that Ekaterinburg is an industrial city, but not many people know that there is a lot of room for business and for growth here.
SCO Summit, of course, has helped in terms of promoting Ekaterinburg as a business and tourist destination. Many Finnish employees of Finnair simply came to Ekaterinburg having found out that this destination is available. They came, they looked. I met some of them specially to show them the city. They all were very happy.
- Where do transit passengers from Ekaterinburg fly via Helsinki?
- People from the Urals fly, more than anywhere, to Helsinki itself. Many of them spend just a weekend in the Finnish capital as this is possible due to the short flight time. Also popular are European megapolises to which there are no direct flights fro Ekaterinburg - Paris, London, Geneva, and Dusseldorf.
Also people from the Urals fly via Helsinki to Korea, Japan, USA - again, flying to these countries over the Polar Circle is shorter. In principle if there is a need to fly to more or less large European city or even Asia, Finnair can offer this service.
- In may 2009 the Consulate General of Hungary in Ekaterinburg started issuing visas to Finland, about 1,400 of them was issued last year. How does it affect the number of passengers?
- Before we used to have to send all tourists to Moscow to process their entry permits. Visas issued in Ekaterinburg made all this easier for us, our passengers, and tour operators working with Finland. We have felt it by the growth in passenger numbers.
- What are the prospects of the development of Finnair's work in the Urals?
- So far we fly from Ekaterinburg less frequently than other European carriers. We are considering the possibility of the increase of flight frequency to four times a week. No final decision has been made yet. This is because the while the Urals market is big there are a lot of different carriers. We do not want to fly empty aircraft either.
Interview prepared by Pavel Kober
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