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Q&A: At the leading edge

Marja Aalto is responsible for the regional air transportation development in the Tampere Region. She has been working in her current position since 2015. Prior to Marja’s appointment to the Tampere Region, she worked for the airline industry in Finland since 1995. Marja has experience throughout the airline field from planning and sales – all the way to flight operations. Her present position is a marketing and sales focused role aimed at generating new business and air traffic to the Tampere Region.

1.    Tell us about your job function at Tampere Region?


I work for Tampere Region cities and municipalities. My role is to work in the Region´s best interest by developing air transportation at our own home airport Tampere-Pirkkala. My main job function is to discuss and negotiate with the airlines for new routes.


Of course, it’s not as simple as just asking the airlines to fly to Tampere.  We have international marketing campaigns targeted at airlines and professionals to get them to know Tampere, Finland as a destination and see it as a potential place to work.



2.    What is the best and most challenging part of your job?


The best feedback is when airlines show interest in Tampere Airport and they see us as a potential destination for a new route. It´s always very satisfying to see increasing passenger numbers and it’s nice to see that more people outside Finland are recognising Tampere.


The most challenging is the environment in which I work. Aviation is always a tough industry and trying to convince the local politicians and decision makers about the importance of our work and the regional development can be a challenge because there are no quick wins to be expected. It takes years to get new routes operational and getting the airlines onboard.



3.    Where is Tampere Airport and how did it come about?


Tampere Airport is in Pirkkala municipality next to Tampere city. That´s why the name of the airport is Tampere-Pirkkala airport. It´s only a 20 minute drive from the city. The location of Tampere city is logistically perfect because the main roads and rail goes through Tampere. There are more than 3 million people living within a two-hour radius from the airport. The catchment is great and gives us lots of potential for the airport and region.


Tampere is the biggest inland city in Scandinavia and famous for its industries and universities and the airport is very important for the central Finland’s economy.


At Tampere-Pirkkala we also have military operations, general aviation and a flight school by Patria. This shared use makes Tampere the busiest regional airport in Finland, if measured by movements. All this is naturally very important to the region and makes the airport even more valuable for our economy.



4.    What role does Tampere Airport play in Finnish aviation and where are your key markets?


We are only 200km from the main airport Helsinki-Vantaa. This is not a bad thing, but a benefit to both airports. Helsinki-Vantaa has profiled itself as the gateway between Europe and Asia with its long haul traffic. Tampere is profiling its local airport as the second airport of Finland and the gateway between Europe and Finland.


In future it´s more important to have a vivid second airport in Finland to ensure easy and smooth connections to central Finland.


Tampere-Pirkkala is in a unique position as a regional airport in Finland where we have regular, daily, scheduled traffic via three hubs – airBaltic (Riga), Finnair (Helsinki) and SAS (Stockholm). Together we reach more than 300 destinations yearly with just one flight change.


Naturally, we want to increase direct flights to Europe in future, but it must be done in a sustainable way and not violate present traffic.


The main market to Tampere Region is Germany. We have a lot of industry sectors collaborating with German companies and it´s very important to have proper connections between these two countries. After Germany, most of the travelling heads to Sweden, the Baltics, the UK and Ireland. Spain is the main market in the leisure sector.


5.    Regional airports in Europe must stand out to increase airline traffic. What strategies are you implementing to achieve this?


Ryanair was our dominating airline for more than 10 years and in the last four years we have been working to stabilise the situation after Ryanair has decreased their market share. Our strategy is to show the potential in the Tampere region.


Destination marketing is the main important tool. At its best, marketing is the most powerful and useful tool to get our message across.


One of the biggest elements visible to people in aviation is our new Tampere Deck – the multipurpose arena that will be finished in 2021. It will be the biggest sports and events arena in Northern Europe.


I take the best elements from this city and from our countryside and use them in marketing to make our message real and easy for everybody. We have lots of potential in this region.



6.    The European regional market is challenging with over capacity in many markets. Is this affecting regional development in any way?


This is one reason why our hubs are so important – strategy of three hub airports gives us good network connections just with one flight change. All our main airports Helsinki, Riga and Stockholm are easily reached with regional aircraft (ATR/Q400). Further developing these and then focusing on some very well selected and targeted direct routes to Europe is the best chance for us to succeed in our route development.


7.    It seems much infrastructure development is centred at Helsinki Airport. Are there plans to shift some of that investment to Tampere?


We did get our share of investments last summer. Finavia invested a total of €17 million to Tampere-Pirkkala and we made some basic renovation throughout the airport. It was very important and much needed by the airport.


We will probably have to wait a few more years to get the next investment in. Personally, I would like to see Tampere-Pirkkala upgraded to CAT II, as the weather in Finland can be harsh.


Supposedly, a new airport rail project would bring a direct rail route to Helsinki Airport from Tampere. How will this affect air travel?


This rail project is very important to Finland. It’s more a response to our national needs and not necessarily solving the problems of international accessibility. With proper train connections, we anticipate that there will be more travellers using Tampere-Pirkkala Airport as well. It is not a question of either/or, we can have both.


8.    What’s next in the pipeline at Tampere Airport?


We got hit by the bankruptcies of airlines last autumn and this winter. We have a lack of capacity, especially in our leisure routes. We need to find new airlines that are operable from Tampere that can commit to those operations. We have some on-going negotiations and we are hoping to get some positive results, so we may have some good news for 2020.

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