By Anne Kauranen
HELSINKI (Reuters) -Finnair will remain a stand-alone airline and stick to its Asia-focused strategy while adding new routes to the United States, Chief Executive Topi Manner said on Friday.
Finland’s national carrier has bet heavily on providing connections to Asia from its Helsinki hub so the recovery of Asian traffic from the slump caused by pandemic restrictions is particularly important.
Finnair expects the business environment to return to close to normal in the second half of this year following the pandemic disruptions.
“We are optimistic about summer,” Manner told Reuters in an interview, adding the airline expected countries like Japan and South Korea to lift travel restrictions towards summer in the northern hemisphere.
“We believe Asia will open up eventually. In the meantime, we are partially pivoting to North America,” Manner said.
Finnair’s new summer destinations will include the U.S. cities of Dallas and Seattle, he added.
He was speaking after the airline announced a 200-million-euro ($228 million) investment in renewing the cabins of its long-haul fleet, including a new premium economy service and redesigned business cabin.
“This is a trend that has been accelerated by the pandemic. People are willing to upgrade the experience,” he said.
Manner said the new cabin class was being added to address increasing demand in premium leisure travel, while also introducing a new business class seat called “the air lounge”, a nest-like shell that offers more privacy. It does not recline but modifies to allow for horizontal sleeping.
“We as a carrier of course need to differentiate and we have chosen to differentiate with quality,” he said.
Finnair operates Airbus A330 and A350 planes on long-haul routes.
Unlike many airlines, Finnair has not yet joined a wave of orders for the latest generation of narrowbody jets like the A320neo, which burn 15% less fuel.
Finnair’s fleet of 35 Airbus A320-family jets includes some planes as old as 21 years but others produced as recently as 2018, according to its website.
Asked whether Finnair planned to renew its medium-haul fleet, Manner said it could do so in three or four years but stressed the importance of sustainable aviation fuel as the airline targets net zero emissions by 2045.
($1 = 0.8770 euros)
(Reporting by Anne Kauranen Editing by Tim Hepher, Mark Potter and Jane Merriman)