Air Connectivity as an Enabler

Finnair_pic_2016Air connectivity is the key to unlocking a country’s economic growth potential, according Juha Järvinen, Chief Commercial Officer of Finnair. In part because it enables the country to attract business investment and human capital, but also because it spurs tourism, which is vital to many countries’ economic prosperity. Enhancing connectivity, he says, will play a major role in strengthening ties between the EU and China.

In an increasingly interdependent world, it has become crucial that we succeed in maximising the means by which we are connected: in this context, the airline industry has a fundamental role to play.

A pioneer in establishing air links between Europe and China, Finnair became the first Western European airline to have a non-stop route between Europe and China in 1988. We also became the first European airline to establish direct links to Chongqing and Xi’an. Throughout this time, we have seen an increase in connectivity, not just between China and Finland, but with Europe as a whole.

Connectivity is becoming increasingly important when assessing today’s relationship between the EU and China. China is at a critical juncture as it transitions to a new growth model – a model based on the notion of better quality growth. This internal change in China is likely to have an external impact on both trade and investment flows. China is seeking space and a voice, while its policy of ‘going global’ picks up pace. Its companies are being encouraged to trade and invest abroad, and find resources as never before.

The EU has been pragmatic in recognising this trend. Through its New Strategy on China, its Transport Policy and the new EU-China Connectivity Platform, the EU is looking to create synergies between EU policies and projects and China’s ‘One Belt One Road’ initiative, in the field of transport and infrastructure. It is “aiming to connect the Eurasian continent via a physical and digital network through which trade, investment and people-to-people contacts can flow”.[1]

The fact of the matter is that improving connectivity—whether through infrastructure, technology, culture, people or transport—between the EU and China would boost the economic, and other, prospects for all concerned.

Connecting regions – unleashing potential

Connecting communities and enhancing exchange is the key to unleashing potential, particularly in challenging locations. As such it is important that we strive to help open up greater regional opportunities through enhanced regional connectivity.

An example of this is Finnair’s expanded routes to other regional hubs in China such as Xi’an and Chongqinq, and connecting remote Nordic regions such as Rovaniemi in Lapland or Bergen in Norway. Today, we are helping connect previously unconnected areas, regions and cities in both Europe and China, which can only help spur ever greater collaborations and partnerships.

Enabling sustainable tourism

Region-to-region connectivity is also paving the way for greater tourism between the two regions. Chinese tourists visiting Europe is estimated to reach around 13.5 million in 2016. This is compared to just over eight million in 2013. In 2015, Finland itself experienced a growth rate of 40 per cent year-on-year of Chinese tourists, and nearly five million Europeans visited China last year.

However, true long-term business sustainability requires not only consideration of commercial needs, but also an evaluation of its impact on society and the environment. We will all need to be actively involved in understanding and nurturing these areas in order to meet the today’s requirements, without compromising the needs of tomorrow. It is important we find ecologically-, financially- and socially-sustainable solutions when considering the development tourism.

Boosting new economies

Enhanced connectivity helps boost economic growth by opening up new and emerging industries.

Air cargo plays a particularly important role in the world today, serving as a key engine of economic growth and development. For Finnair, China is becoming a crucial source of traffic: in 2015, 25 per cent of all cargo revenues originated in Greater China for Finnair Cargo, with identified growth segments including high-tech goods, e-commerce parcel traffic and pharmaceuticals.

Thanks to increased bilateral investments, Greater China is now Finnair’s largest sales region outside of its home market In Finland for example, we have witnessed a growing number of Chinese investments in new growth industries, notably in renewable energy, mobile technology or software development – as seen in Tencent’s recent purchase of Supercell.

Huawei, perhaps one of China’s most internationally-recognised brands, has increasingly invested in Finland, which epitomises the growing relations between the two countries, and encapsulates the benefits that arise from greater connectivity. Having opened a sales office in 2008, Huawei founded an R&D centre in Helsinki in 2012. Its original goal was to employ around 100 ICT professionals in Finland, but that goal has already been exceeded, with it now employing over 220 people and looking at further expansion. Today, Huawei has investments of EUR 70 million in Finland.

There has also been increasing Finnish investments in China, including in areas such as cleantech, where there is a nationwide Sino-Finnish cleantech programme currently being rolled out, having been launched in 2013. Also in mobile technology: the President of Nokia China recently confirmed that Nokia is working on a number of Android-powered smartphones, which are to be manufactured in factories in Sichuan, starting from this year, with a view to permanently re-locating Nokia’s R&D centre to Sichuan. Furthermore, the FinChi Innovation Center, a platform for China-Finland cooperation, which began operations in Beijing 2012, is expected to attract more leading high-tech companies from Finland to set up operations in Zhongguancun, Beijing Software park, and serve as a bridge of innovative cooperation between the two sides.

Greater connectivity between China and the EU is fuelling greater and greater results – results that are both far-ranging and beneficial for all. We at Finnair are proud to have helped play some part in strengthening EU-China bonds through air travel. It is about sparking a bond between people, a bond between cultures and regions. It is about creating an environment where fruitful exchanges and associations can be made through technology and through innovation, and where both sides can witness greater exchanges of tourists and students, which themselves bring wider benefits. Ultimately, enhancing connectivity is key to unlocking greater growth potential and maximising China’s and the EU’s economic potential.

Finnair flies between Asia, Europe and North America with an emphasis on fast connections via Helsinki, carrying more than ten million passengers annually and connecting 17 cities in Asia with more than 70 destinations in Europe. The airline, a pioneer in sustainable flying, is the European launch customer of the next-generation, eco-smart Airbus A350 XWB aircraft. The only Nordic carrier with a 4-star Skytrax ranking, Finnair has also won the World Airline Award for Best Airline Northern Europe for the past six years running. Finnair is a member of oneworld, the alliance of the world’s leading airlines committed to providing the highest level of service and convenience to frequent international travellers.