Between 2020 and 2021, Finland has become an unknown paradise for aviation enthusiasts: some of the rarest planes, from the rarest airlines, are flying a couple of domestic routes. TravelRadar has tested out three different routes, with some unusual aircraft, between the capital Helsinki and three smaller cities around Finland!
What are these rare flights? And why such flights?
Here is an outline of the destinations, the airlines and the aircraft used:
- Helsinki-Pori (POR), on the Southwest coast: 3 daily flights on weekdays by Budapest Aircraft Services‘ Embraer 120 [Hungary];
- Helsinki-Kokkola (KOK), on the West coast, following to Kemi (KEM), on the Swedish border, 2/3 daily flights by Nyx Air‘s Saab 2000 [Estonia];
- Helsinki-Jyväskylä (JYV), in Central Finland, also operated 2/3 times a day by Nyx Air’s Saab 2000 [Estonia];
- Helsinki-Kajaani (KAJ), in the Northeast, operated twice a day by Danish Air Transport‘s ATR42 [Denmark];
- Helsinki-Joensuu (JOE), in Carelia – Eastern Finland, operated by Amapola Flyg‘s Fokker50 [Sweden];
- Helsinki-Savonlinna (SVL), in the Lake Region, operated by Transaviabaltika‘s Jetstream32 [Lithuania].
These seven cities are not known worldwide and definitely not popular tourist destinations, as, for example, Lapland’s capital Rovaniemi, where Santa Claus’ home is.
Then what is the interest of keeping these flights up? The answer is PSO (Public Service Obligation): these flights are subsided by the Finnish Government in order to maintain regional connectivity. However, the flights are not targeting point-to-point passengers, as usually, trains are a cheaper (and greener) option; the flights’ schedules are planned in order to guarantee international connections through Helsinki Airport (HEL). Since the Flag Carrier Finnair discontinued these routes because of the pandemic, stating that they were economically unviable, the Finnish government decided to create a PSO tender for the next years. Several small companies from all over Europe responded to the tender and during Autumn 2020 grants and routes, allocations have been assigned. You can learn more about these flights on Traficom (Finnish Transport Agency) webpage, where all the information about tenders is located.
At the time of writing, the single airlines are in contact with major airlines in order to open interline agreements and guarantee smoother connections through HEL. As of now, customers connecting to one of these PSO flights must buy separate tickets, but they can receive their boarding pass directly at the gate, minutes before boarding.
Schedules for these flights have been studied in order to according to the waves of departures and arrivals in HEL. For example, most of these domestic destinations have an outbound flight departing after 23.00, catching all the evening arrivals, and an inbound flight landing in HEL before 07:00, just in time for the morning flights.
Let’s have a look at some of these flights!
Helsinki to Pori, Embraer 120 (09 August 2021)
The route between Helsinki (HEL) and Pori (POR) is flown with a rare Embraer 120. According to ch-aviation, at the time of writing, only 9 Embraer 120 are currently in Europe, of which only 3 are passenger aircraft. Two of the three planes belong to Budapest Aircraft Service (also known as BASe Airlines), the company flying to Pori. The flights are marketed and sold by the Finnish virtual company Karhu Aero.
BASe Airlines is a small Hungarian airline founded in 1991, which used to fly some short regional routes on behalf of the defunct Hungarian airline Malév and Moldovan flag carrier Air Moldova. Now, it specialises mostly in charter and ad-hoc flights.
BASe’s Embraer 120s fly on the city pair three times a day between Monday and Friday, leaving Helsinki at 09:00, 16:35 and 19:20. The flight is quite short: 40-45 minutes for 133 miles.
Pori is a small town of 80.000 inhabitants located close to the West Coast of Finland, facing the Gulf of Bothnia. It’s the capital of the Finnish region of Satakunta and it’s internationally famous for its Jazz Festival, usually held in July. Read more about Pori on this page.
Pori Airport, which is within walking distance from the city centre, handled around 15000 passengers in 2019, and roughly 5000 in 2020.
On the day of the flight (a Monday morning), the flight was operated by HA-FAL, a 31-year-old Embraer 120, who flew for Brussels Airlines between 1990 and 1998, then passed to Air France Régional (currently known as Hop) until 2008, when it finally started service with BASe. Only three passengers were on the plane, which has 30 seats. After a talk with the flight attendant, we discovered that a lot of aviation enthusiasts and curious travellers fly to Pori only for the plane experience, making it one of the main customer segments for the route. Crews are based in Pori and usually stay in Finland for 2-3 weeks, after returning to Hungary.
BASe Airlines offers an excellent service for such a short flight: when getting to cruise altitude, coffee, tea or juice are offered, along with a basket of snacks and local newspapers.
Helsinki to Joensuu on a Fokker 50 (22 November 2021)
Following on this Finnish adventure, we flew to Joensuu, the capital of Northern Carelia, a 70.000-inhabitant town quite close to the Russian border. It has become during the past years an important economical and cultural centre of Finland, also thanks to its University counting around 20.000 students. Read more about Joensuu at this link.
The Swedish airline Amapola Flyg flies between Helsinki and Joensuu. Born as freight and postal service airline, Amapola Flyg started operating also passenger flights in 2018, initially only in Sweden. It came to Finland in October 2020 and, in July 2021, it started flying also between Dublin and Donegal, Ireland. It has a fleet of 17 Fokker50s: it is at the moment the only operator of the model in Europe.
Amapola Flyg flies twice a day between Helsinki and Joensuu (once a day on Saturdays and Sundays), at 17:00 and 23:40. The flight time is around one hour and it covers a distance of 224 miles.
Joensuu Airport handled some 120.000 passengers in 2019 when it was connected to Helsinki with Finnair and it was handling a couple of charter flights to some holiday destinations in Greece, Turkey and Spain. In 2020, after Finnair withdrew the route in March and Amapola Flyg took over in October, a little more than 20.000 passengers travelled through the airport. Joensuu Airport is well connected with the city centre by local transport, which leaves from the airport 10 minutes after the flight lands (so a ride to the city centre is guaranteed even if the flight is late).
On the day of the flight (a Monday evening at 17:00), the flight was full, 50 seats taken out of 50. After asking to some colleagues at the airport, we were told that the flight is usually quite packed. On that specific day, many business travellers were going to a conference held during the whole week in Joensuu.
Our ride to Joensuu was SE-MFZ, a 32-year-old aircraft that started its career in Amapola Flyg in 2018, after flying for Lufthansa CityLine (1989-1995), Air Nostrum (1995-2001) and the defunct Belgian airline VLM Airlines (2001-2018). The aircraft is currently in Malmo (Sweden) after a small accident occurred on 25th November 2021 (three days after our flight), which forced the flight to land back in Helsinki a couple of minutes after taking off. The reason is unknown.
The flight went smoothly, unfortunately, we could not enjoy the usual gorgeous views on the Finnish countryside because of the darkness. The cabin feels quite old but the overall experience is enjoyable. The crew is lovely and the onboard service consists of coffee, tea and chocolates, which is reasonable for a one-hour flight.
Savonlinna to Helsinki on a Jetstream32 (24 November 2021)
The last flight on this article is a short hop between Savonlinna and Helsinki.
Savonlinna is a small suggestive town in Southeastern Finland, counting around 30.000 inhabitants. The town lies in the middle of the Saimaa Lake region, where small urban centres perfectly coexist with the huge forests and numerous lakes. Savonlinna is well known for its castle (the city’s name literally means “Castle of Savonia”) and its Opera Festival held in Summer. You can learn more about Savonlinna here.
Savonlinna Airport (SVL) is one of the smallest in Finland. It has only two departing gates, rarely used at the same time, and Helsinki is the only scheduled flight. Some charter flights land in Savonlinna when the Opera Festival takes place. In 2019, the airport handled some 10.000 passengers, while in 2020 the number dropped to around 3.000.
The liaison between Helsinki and Savonlinna is operated by the Lithuanian airline Transaviabaltika (which, despite the name, is not related in any way to Transavia). The company, which owns 4 planes, of which two are Jetstream 31/32, is specialised in Air Taxi and Charter Ad-Hoc services. However, it also operates PSO services in Estonia and, indeed, in Finland on the HEL-SVL city pair, started just in October 2021.
The service is operated twice a day between Mondays and Fridays, leaving HEL at 08.30 and 17.25. The flight time is around 50-55 minutes and the flight covers a distance of 174 miles. The crew is based in Savonlinna for the week but it flies to Tallinn, Estonia (TLL) for the weekend. The airline also sells an SVL-TLL flight on Friday evenings and TLL-SVL on Sunday evenings, in time for the morning flight.
On our flight out of Savonlinna (on a Wednesday afternoon, at 14:00), there were three passengers on the flight. The Jetstream32 is a very small plane, accommodating a maximum of 19 passengers. There are no overhead bins, but a storage space at the rear of the plane, and there are no flight attendants: the safety demonstration is performed by the pilots themselves, which also welcome the passengers. It is curious to see that there is no door between the cabin and the cockpit, which is a great asset for an aviation enthusiast, who can enjoy a view of the cockpit during the whole flight. There is no onboard service, but the check-in agent in Savonlinna handed out for passengers coffee and candies while waiting to board.
Our plane, ES-PJR, is a 30-year-old aircraft (the youngest of the ones tested so far!).
From an aviation enthusiast point of view, taking these flights is simply an amazing, unforgettable experience. Moreover, the gorgeous Finnish landscapes add a magical touch to the flights.
However, we have to note that taking these services is not the most environmentally-friendly choice. We truly hope that the current research on sustainable flights (Finnair, for example, has an interest in electric planes) will keep these flights alive, replacing the older planes. However, for the time being, it is a good milestone for an avgeek to get to fly on an Embraer 120, a Fokker 50 and a Jetstream32!
If you want to know more about these flights, you can check out @mikaelfaa00?">this TikTok account, where I uploaded some videos of these flights as part of a video assignment for school.
Which one of these flights would you like to try out? Let us know in the comments!