Behind the scenes: building the airport of tomorrow
What are the puzzle pieces required to create a stress-free travel experience along with a wow effect?
Helsinki Airport handles 19 million passengers annually, a figure projected to soar over the next decade. Fuelled by Finnair’s ever-increasing traffic between Asia and Europe, the airport has evolved into its own community, directly and indirectly employing 20,000 people who work for some 2,000 operators.
Ensuring the continued growth of this thriving transport hub poses its administrators, Finavia, with an enormous and complex puzzle. The current programme of expansion, due for completion in 2022, covers not only physical construction and development but also a whole range of enhancements in terms of technology and passenger experience. Terminal space will increase by 45 per cent, adding eight new gates for wide-bodied aircraft and boosting both baggage handling and passport control capacity by 50 per cent.
In 2017, Helsinki handled just over three million transit passengers, up from 2.66 million in 2016. The majority were transferring to and from Finnair’s many scheduled Asian and North American flights. In order to increase the speed and efficiency of transferring passengers from non-Schengen to European Schengen area flights and vice versa, the airport is currently seeing a major expansion of its non-Schengen area.
A major feature of the extension is the separation on different levels of arriving and departing passengers. “We have planned highly developed passenger bridges with escalators, and there will be travelators connecting the gates with transfer and baggage areas. We also try to use timber as much as possible to create the visual Finnish and Nordic identity,” says Tuomas Silvennoinen of PES-Architects Ltd, chief architect for the development.
Silvennoinen adds that the experience must serve those who are using the terminal every day and those who are using it once in a lifetime. He refers to the “rational poetry” of the building, which he sees as important to any terminal or transport hub. “If you think of big railway stations, they are romantic, fantastic, inspiring places,” he says.
His idea has been to continue in line with the previous terminal design tradition, based on a streamlined, easy to navigate, “single roof” concept, while adding something new.
“The extension has to fit the existing building and at the same time we are subtly developing the aesthetics and general look. There is a lot of ‘visual noise’ in a terminal building – signage, advertisements, shop fronts. It’s important to create some sort of lasting architectural background, both visually and functionally.”
In the future, your face could be your boarding pass!
Smooth digital journey
Enhancement of the airport’s digital processes is also central to the developments. These processes make automation and self-service procedures faster and smoother, in turn expanding capacity.
“We have been developing our digital services, such as the Helsinki Airport App that provides info about the airport’s services and commercial offering, and our renewed website, giving the airport a digital face. The Helsinki Airport map is now available on Apple Maps and we want to use more channels in more languages,” says Heikki Koski, Finavia’s chief digital officer.
In addition to other digital elements that are visible to the passenger, such as automated check-in and bag drop, a whole range of “under the hood” services are incorporated into the development plans. These include aircraft services, turnaround management, and baggage handling. Looking further ahead, all digital processes at the airport will be integrated. Biometric identification systems will be introduced and applied across different processes. In the future, your face could be your boarding pass!
Technology enhances the airport customer experience, playing an ever-greater role, but the human touch points remain important.
“It’s a full ecosystem and we can’t operate it alone,” says Timo Järvelä, Finavia’s vice president, passenger experience and processes. “The passengers don’t care so much about who is responsible for each process, they are just interested that it works.”
The ultimate aim is to facilitate a stress-free passenger journey. The passenger needs to know where to go to proceed through the different processes as fast as possible, with minimum hassle. “I also want that experience to leave the passenger with an extra ‘wow’ memory,” says Järvelä.
A plaza area connecting the West and South Piers in the non-Schengen area will have video walls showing images of Finland to create an emotional identification with the country. There will be lots of daylight and space, and wooden floors and ceilings. “We want to keep things simple and under a single roof,” says Järvelä.
Text Tim Bird
Illustration Emmi-Riikka Vartiainen