A new, state-of-the-art West Pier – forest-themed in its design and build – opened its doors in May this year. It represents a major step forward for the Nordic long-haul hub, but it is only one part of a wider programme of development at Finland’s biggest air gateway that continues today
Helsinki Airport’s new West Pier opened for operations in May. The new pier occupies 13,000m2 of additional space at the gateway and features two new restaurants, a premium-class lounge and a new childcare room. Five jet bridges link the pier to stands that serve long-haul connections; each of the five stands can take either five widebodied aircraft, although one of them is a MARS – or Multiple Apron Ramp System – gate that maximises flexibility of operation by being able to take two narrowbodied aircraft in place of a widebody if desirable to do so.
Work on the West Pier began in March 2017. Passengers arrive at the facility’s upper level while departing passengers use the lower level to speed traffic flow.
The pier’s entry into service earlier this year came at an auspicious moment for a gateway that is handling ever-greater passenger numbers.
“The opening of Helsinki Airport’s West Pier comes at a very good time as Finnair’s successful Asian strategy continues to increase the number of transfer passengers at our airport,” says Joni Sundelin, executive director of Helsinki Airport for operator Finavia.
“In addition, two new Chinese carriers signed by our route development team will start flights: Tibet Airlines in April and Juneyao Air in June.”
He continues: “We want to stand out by providing an exceptionally good customer experience and responsible operations. We strive for smooth and safe processes, and enhance our services and work hard to ensure that emissions from airport operations do not increase as the number of passengers increases.”
Moreover, Sundelin observes: “All our airports are carbon neutral.”
The new West Pier forms part of a much wider billion-euro Finavia investment programme for Helsinki Airport that is expected to extend over about eight years. It aims to “strengthen the airport’s competitive position and ensure Finland’s accessibility”, the airport operator says.
The go-ahead for the overall programme of expansion was signed off five years ago, in 2014, confirms Timo Järvelä, Finavia’s vice president for passenger experience and processes, and the man responsible for operations at the new pier and Helsinki’s upgraded terminal operations.
That year saw the first part of the project completed, with the extension of check-in and security control facilities at Helsinki’s Terminal 2. The whole process will not be completed until 2022 at the earliest, when the current arrivals and departure halls will be adapted into a Schengen gate area.
Over the 2014-18 period, other improvements so far executed have included development of the South Pier, while this year has seen a number of significant development milestones, including the extension of Terminal 1 and the openings of the new West Pier and the ‘Aukio’ central plaza.
Furthermore, Helsinki Airport acts primarily as a regional long-haul hub for Northern Europe, especially for flights to and from Asia. Hence, many users of the gateway – in fact, about two-thirds of all long-haul fliers at Helsinki Airport – are transfer passengers, and they will benefit from a new security area opened for transfer passengers in February this year.
The West Pier’s opening, with its five widebody stands, will be complemented by a later phase of development of this facility, expected to be completed in the November/December 2019 timeframe. The second phase of the West Pier development will add a further four widebody stands; one of these gates will be of the MARS variety. This phase will also incorporate a sizeable upgrade of the baggage handling facilities at Helsinki Airport.
Meanwhile, the part of the project aimed at the development of transfer passenger handling capacity will meanwhile be completed by the end of this year.
Other ongoing projects include the construction of a new entrance to Terminal 2.
The two phases of West Pier development taken together will just about double Helsinki Airport’s capacity for handling widebodies. Alongside an expansion of the border control area – undertaken in close co-operation with Finland’s border authorities, notes Järvelä – and the expansion/improvements of the transfer passenger area, baggage handling and other infrastructure will allow for a significant increase in the gateway’s capacity for handling long-haul services.
As of the end of July this year, Helsinki Airport had seen the completion of the following aspects of its ambitious expansion programme:
- Extension of check-in and security control facilities in Terminal 2 (2014)
- Bus gate area 50 A-M (2016)
- South Pier (2017)
- Aukio (2019)
- Extension of Terminal 1 (2019)
- West Pier phase 1 (2019)
- Extension of border control (July 2019)
Ongoing or due for imminent completion were:
- Extension of gate area 17-19 (almost finished, expected to be completed in August 2019)
- West Pier 2 (November-December 2019)
- New indoor car park (2020)
- New entrance and departures and arrivals halls in Terminal 2 (2021)
- Extension of gate area 32-34 (future gate area 37-39) (2021)
- Current arrivals and departure halls turned into a Schengen gate area (2022)
In brief, Finavia’s overall investment programme takes in:
- Additional terminal space of 103,000 m2: a 45% increase
- Additional bridge gates for widebody aircraft: a 100% increase
- More luggage handling capacity: a 50% increase
- More passport control capacity: a 50% increase
- Refurbished apron area of 450,000 m2
- A total of 4,800 additional parking spaces
- A new multimodal travel centre, linking different modes of transport
- Finavia investment of approximately EUR 1 billion
- Employment impact during construction: over 16,000 person-years
As well as working with Finland’s border authorities, the development of Helsinki Airport has also required close-co-operation with other stakeholders at the gateway, Järvelä points out: in particular, with the airport’s customers, its airlines, and its partners, the ground service providers.
There are three main handlers at Helsinki: Swissport, specialist Nordic handler Aviator and Finavia subsidiary Airpro. Finavia has worked closely with these ground service providers in the planning and implementation of the development programme. Offering their input through regular meetings and on shared work groups, they have been “an integral part of the process”, says Järvelä.
Training of relevant staff – not least ground handling staff – has also been a critical component of the whole process, he informs.
Finavia is responsible for managing and operating a total of 21 airports across Finland, of which Helsinki is the biggest and busiest. In 2018, it employed 2,850 people.