Summers are short in Scandinavia—and so are the pockets of airlines. As is the case globally, the cost of ground support services has become an all-important issue and providers are having to find ever-improving business models in order to bring to market the efficiencies carriers so clearly need.
In a commercial environment this is easier said than done. Revenues are just as important to a ground handling company as they are to an airline. According to Tero Vauraste, managing director of Finnish handler, Northport Oy, the solution lies in innovation and new ways of doing business.
Northport was previously a business unit within Finnair but has separated to become a wholly-owned subsidiary. It may not seem a drastic move but Vauraste believes it allows a complete change in direction.
“Our vision has always been to be the leading supplier of ground services in Northern Europe,” says Vauraste, “and creating Northport takes us a step further towards that goal. Making Northport a subsidiary gives the market more reliability and really allows us to focus on the customer.”
“We now have the clear business logic of a pure handling agent and this can be expressed in the market,” he continues. “We also have a new brand, which describes both our market and know-how. The ‘north’ in our name refers to the northern dimension of the company’s market area and also communicates our expertise in northern conditions.
The ‘port’ ending describes the company’s largest marketplace—the operations and traffic of the Helsinki-Vantaa hub. Moreover, it also encapsulates the possibility of delivering services to other forms of transport.”
Restructuring the Finnair unit into a competitive concern was a difficult challenge and Vauraste reports the first issue was to deal with Helsinki-Vantaa International Airport, the Finnair hub with a reputation for efficiency and smooth operations.
“We needed to train the staff to become more efficient and have greater flexibility in handling the peak periods,” Vauraste says. “We also needed better use of technology in services and resourcing.”
Helsinki is very different to the 15 other airports in the Northport network, being a hub operation with two distinct traffic peaks. The first is from 6:30 to 8:00 a.m. and handles mainly regional and European departures—origin and destination traffic in smaller airplanes. The second peak, in the afternoon from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. deals with a high proportion of transit traffic, most especially long-haul connectors from the Far East. Approximately 35 to 40 percent of Northport’s daily operations are concentrated into these two periods.
“At Helsinki we provide full handling in every terminal and have our base in a good location close to the action,” says the managing director. “However, there will be a demand for new facilities as traffic grows, especially in baggage sorting. We’re really pushing this as Helsinki has an excellent geographical location for transit traffic and we want to be able to provide reliable handling in the future. We are working in close cooperation with CAA Finland to respond to these anticipated needs.”
Northport handles nine million passengers per annum and some 100,000 flights, with 99 percent of its revenue coming from a group of 20 customers. However, the client base actually numbers 200-plus. Extracting value from this extended market has forced Northport into some very innovative thinking. Currently Northport’s only operation outside Finland is at Stockholm-Arlanda Airport, where under the name of FinnHandling AB, it partners with a local company, Proffice Aviation.
Vauraste—who also acts as managing director of the Swedish operation—explains: “FinnHandling AB is a unique model. Because we work with a local partner, we have the advantage of only having to pay staff costs while work is being done for our clients. At all other times, staff work purely for Proffice Aviation and its other customers.”
Finnair's ground handling business unit has grand plans for the future, including possible overseas expansion. But, for now, its fortunes remain closely tied to the mother airline, writers Richard...