Blue1 breaks into Heathrow to serve Helsinki

Image: Launch of Blue1’s Heathrow-Helsinki service
Lars Philipsson, head of SAS UK, cuts the ribbon to celebrate the launch of Blue1’s Heathrow-Helsinki service.

Image: We love blue1The Finnish market is notoriously inhospitable to ‘foreign’ airlines. LCCs have made relatively little impact, especially in Helsinki where Sterling’s attempt to create a mini-base was abandoned within weeks of its launch. SAS which is dominant in much of Scandinavia has succeeded in establishing a presence via its subsidiary Blue1 (formerly Air Botnia). Between 2003 and 2006 passenger numbers on Blue1 tripled from 630,000 to 1.85 million.

Chart: Blue1 traffic 2002-2007
Source: SAS
Map: Blue1 Routes

Since 2003 the average annual load factors has risen significantly from a rather woeful 45% in 2003 to a distinctly more respectable 67% in 2007. During the last year the airline has been consolidating its route network and has reduced capacity on a number of domestic routes as well as dropping year-round international routes to Amsterdam (where it was competing against KLM and Finnair), Berlin Tegel (up against Air Berlin and Finnair) and Brussels (up against Brussels Airlines and Finnair), and not re-starting summer-only services to Budapest (up against Finnair and Malev) and Dublin (up against Aer Lingus). As a result year-on-year traffic figures are in decline.

Chart: Blue1 seasonality
Source: SAS

The annual dip in traffic in July is when Finns presumably go on annual holiday. Blue1’s network is mostly geared towards the business traveller with around one-third of capacity assigned to domestic flights and another 40% allocated to serving the major Scandinavian cities of Copenhagen, Gothenburg, Oslo and Stockholm.

Image: Helsinki-Vantaa airport extension
Work on the extension to Helsinki-Vantaa is making rapid progress – the state-of-the-art facility will start serving long-haul passengers in autumn 2009.

Swopping Stansted for Heathrow

From the start of this summer the airline has started flying daily to London Heathrow, having previously been operating to Stansted. The route will be served by one of the airline’s five MD90s which along with two Avro RJ100s and six Avro RJ85s make up the carrier’s fleet.

Around 25% of the airline’s capacity is allocated to 10 non-Nordic routes with Heathrow and Zurich the only ones to be served at least daily.

Finnair provides fierce competition

Every route that Blue1 operates from Helsinki is also served by Finnair, invariably with higher frequency and more capacity. Owners SAS complement Blue1 on routes to Copenhagen and Stockholm. In addition British Airways competes on London Heathrow and LOT on Warsaw. Neither Air France nor Alitalia serve Helsinki and easyJet and Ryanair are also conspicuous by their absence. The top five airlines at Helsinki this summer are listed below.

Airline Frequency share Capacity share Number of routes
Finnair 49.7% 57.5% 73
Blue1 11.7% 12.9% 18
Finncomm 19.1% 10.9% 13
Lufthansa 3.6% 4.3% 2
SAS 3.1% 3.1% 2
Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 5 May 2008

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