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April 19, 2024
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Finnair and Qatar Airways are starting a long-term strategic partnership that will connect three capital cities in Scandinavia with Doha, they announced on August 29. New services from Helsinki (Finland), Stockholm (Sweden), and Copenhagen (Denmark) will be launched in November and December. Finnair seems to win the most from agreement with Qatar Airways.

Finnair already flies to Doha, currently offering alternatively four and five-weekly services from Helsinki until October 30. The first week with daily services is scheduled from October 31 until November 13 and then again from December 19. Stockholm and Copenhagen, which are both key hubs of rival airline SAS, will be offered before the end of the year. The Finnair timetable doesn’t show any flights yet. Services will be operated by the carrier’s Airbus A330-300 fleet, of which it has eight. The fleet has just received new Premium Economy seats and a refreshed Economy class.

Qatar Airways currently offers direct services to Helsinki with a Boeing 787-8, which is also used on the Copenhagen-Doha rotation. Stockholm is served by Boeing 777-300ER. In a media statement, Group CEO Akbar Al Baker says:This strategic partnership demonstrates our commitment to the Nordic markets and strengthens our position as the leading Middle East carrier in this important region. This partnership will be the foundation for the future expansion here.” 

Plans fit within EU-Qatar agreement

The two airlines, which are partners within the Oneworld alliance, don’t rule out launching services from more European cities, while a comprehensive codeshare agreement also covers cargo services. The new services seem to fit within the “landmark agreement” between the European Union and Qatar, which was announced in March 2019 but signed in October 2021. Through so-called third and fourth freedom traffic rights, the agreement allows EU airlines unrestricted direct flights from any airport in the EU to Doha and vice versa to Qatari airlines. Fifth freedom rights from Qatar with a stopover in Europe and onward journey to for example the US are excluded. The EU-Qatar agreement has been criticized by many as giving Qatar Airways almost unrestricted access to the EU, distorting competition by the state-owned airline. This argument has less impact since European airlines have been bailed out massively during the Covid crisis.

At first sight, Finnair seems to be the one that has the most to win from the agreement. By strengthening Doha as a key destination, the Middle East becomes more important and should generate new traffic. This is most welcome, as the airline is one of the EU carriers that is suffering most from the EU sanctions on Russia since the war in Ukraine. Finnair has lost its shortcut through Russian airspace to Asia, including China, Korea, and Japan, and has to make a long and costly detour around Russia now. That the Asian markets are the last ones to reopen from Covid restrictions hasn’t helped either.

CEO Topi Manner said in July during the Q2 results presentation that Finnair is counting on a prolonged closure of Russia. This would force it to review its strategy and induce a “significant structural renewal of Finnair”, which he announced for this autumn. “The company is preparing a new strategy to improve its weak profitability and to strengthen its financial position.” The airline added new flights to South Asia and the US to its network, including Dallas and Seattle this summer and to Guanzhou (China) from September 6.

Finnair reported a €-279.2 million net loss for Q2, an operating loss of €-92.9 million, and €550.3 million in revenues. The HY1 loss was €-492.3 million, the operating loss €-257.8 million, and revenues of €950.1 million.

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Active as a journalist since 1987, with a background in newspapers, magazines, and a regional news station, Richard has been covering commercial aviation on a freelance basis since late 2016.
Richard is contributing to AirInsight since December 2018. He also writes for Airliner World, Aviation News, Piloot & Vliegtuig, and Luchtvaartnieuws Magazine. Twitter: @rschuur_aero.

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