Malmi Airport as transportation infrastructure

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Malmi Airport in northeastern Helsinki. Photo: Tuomas Kuosmanen

Without Malmi Airport, Helsinki would be one of the few capital cities in Europe to which lighter air traffic cannot get even close on a free schedule. Only Tallinn and Albania’s Tirana are European capitals without a separate airport nearby for unscheduled light traffic. The reason for this is that, due to the small amount of air traffic, their only airports have sufficient capacity to flexibly serve all air traffic.

With long-term effort, Helsinki-Vantaa International Airport has achieved the status of an international air traffic hub. The competition between metropolises for hub position is merciless, because the effects on business life and competitiveness are very significant. However, Helsinki-Vantaa is Finland’s only so-called slot-coordinated airport (level 3) from which it is not possible to operate on a free schedule. According to the international definition, a level 3 slot-coordinated airport means an airport whose capacity is insufficient to meet demand (IATA 2022, p. 20). To use Helsinki-Vantaa’s runways, a time slot must be requested three hours in advance, and scheduled route traffic has priority.

According to Finavia’s statistics, Malmi had more than 700 international flight operations in the last year of collecting statistics, and international traffic was growing strongly at that time. In addition, Malmi has had significantly more traffic to other domestic airports, several thousand operations each year. It is impossible to serve such volumes of free-schedule flight operations to and from the capital at the slot-coordinated Helsinki-Vantaa.

International flight operations at Malmi 2010-2015 (source: Finavia)
2011503 (+6%)
2012494 (-1%)
2013560 (+13%)
2014609 (+9%)
2015705 (+16%)
A business jet taking off from Malmi. Photo: Timo Hyvönen

For the sake of comparison, it is worth noting that the runway capacity of the Stockholm region is considered such a significant regional competitive advantage that reducing it is not considered possible. In addition to the large Arlanda airport, Stockholm is served by Bromma airport in the middle of the city and several smaller airstrips less than 25 km from the city. In February 2023, the government in Sweden, preparing for the ongoing green revolution in aviation, put a stop to investigations into the closure of Bromma to make way for residential construction.

Aviation solutions based on electric and hybrid solutions as well as renewable fuels, lighter aircraft and new business concepts are rapidly gaining ground around the world, and they are expected to revolutionize accessibility between provinces. New infrastructure concepts of flexible urban air transport services are also being developed.

The capital region, acting as the economic powerhouse of the country, is by far the most important destination of the interprovincial air traffic network. With the exception of Helsinki-Vantaa, the other airports in Finland flexibly serve also lighter unscheduled air traffic, and in addition to them, there are dozens of smaller airports that, with minimal investment, can open even the most remote areas to fast air connections. However, new generation flexible air traffic services do not mix well with Helsinki-Vantaa’s traditional heavy scheduled traffic.

Cirrus Vision Jet VLJ at Malmi airport. This type can transport seven passengers to a range of 2300 km at 560 km/h cruising speed and needs less than one kilometer of runway. The flight from Helsinki-Malmi on free schedule to Utsjoki takes about two hours, to London or Paris about three and a half hours. Photo: Raine Haikarainen

The new generation of small, 4-8 seat microjets (VLJ, Very Light Jet) are quiet, practically as fast as traditional business jets, significantly cheaper in terms of acquisition, fuel and maintenance costs, and can operate without problems from runways only one kilometer long. They are rapidly entering the fleets of business aviation operators all over the world. According to a market analysis published by Allied Market Research in June 2021, the value of the global VLJ market will more than double from 2021 to 2030, with annual growth of 11%. As the business fleet is gradually renewed, Malmi’s current runways would be completely sufficient as such to secure the flexible business aviation services of the capital region.

Considering flight connections, moving between Malmi Airport and Helsinki-Vantaa International does not take longer than changing terminals at the world’s major airports. Without Malmi airport, however, the closest equivalent light non-scheduled air traffic services would be in Turku, 150 km away. This would weaken Helsinki’s accessibility and position in the competition between metropolises as well as the accessibility of the provinces through the capital.