Students helped Finavia to analyze the terminal logistics at Helsinki Airport

The unexpectedly rapid recovery of air travel has caused capacity issues
Finavia-projektin työryhmä, Aalto BIZ
From the left: Sami Kiiskinen (Finavia), Markku Kuula (Aalto), Dennis Karlsson (student), Joona Salonen (Finavia), Emilia Laitila (student), Joni Pekkanen (Finavia), Jukka Isomäki (Finavia) and Tommi Vihervaara (Aalto). Arthur Simon (student) was absent.

Helsinki Airport has experienced some turbulent changes recently due to the Covid pandemic and the ongoing terminal modifications. The unexpectedly rapid recovery of air travel has caused capacity issues at airports around the world.

The airport environment brings additional challenges to logistical flow, as all goods going to the terminal need to be security controlled. These security checkpoints can cause bottlenecks in the distribution network if not properly optimized.

As the airport faces to meet these challenges head-on, the airport operator, Finavia, ordered a student project to investigate the current logistical situation. The project was carried out as a “Customized Student Business Project”, a concept created by the School of Business.

The purpose of the project was to acquire an understanding of the retail and restaurant logistical flow in Helsinki Airport via a combination of interviews, field research and data analysis.

The project was carried out by Emilia Laitila from the master's program in International Design Business Management (IDBM), Dennis Karlsson majoring in Finance and Arthur Simon majoring in Information and Service Management (ISM). The project was supervised by Markku Kuula, Head of Department (ISM) and Professor of Logistics.

Theory meets practice

The project team approached the challenge by first interviewing key business partners from the retail and restaurant operators within the airport to get a better understanding of the processes on the grass root level. Furthermore, personnel from Finavia were interviewed to get an idea of the big picture of logistics at the airport.

Later, the team got to do hands-on work by conducting field research in the terminal. The team spent a total of 41 hours collecting data at the security checkpoints to estimate the volume, type, and destination of incoming and outgoing goods. In addition, the team investigated logistical routing with one of the major business operators in the terminal. Finally, a tour was made to an external distribution center in order to better understand its role in the daily logistics of Finavia.

According to student Arthur Simon, it was fascinating to learn in depth about the logistics of a large international airport. ‘The whole facility works like a small city, every piece playing an important role in the puzzle. It is a robust system filled with a motivated workforce. It was an honor to work with the local staff, ranging from Finavia managers to security personnel and retail partners.’

Finavia-projekti, lastauslaituri
Trolleys at one of the loading bays.

The student team gained plenty of insights and learnings

The team did not only learn plenty of new things regarding the airport environment with all its boundary conditions, logistics, and problem solving, but also about working in an ever-changing environment. 

Student Emilia Laitila tells that one of the best parts of working with this project was the fact that the team was able to go to the field and investigate the issues in their real environment.

‘Our team succeeded in creating a comprehensive plan for conducting the field research which helped us get the most out of the days spent at the airport. All the hours sitting at the checkpoints making marks on an Excel sheet, the spontaneous discussions with personnel, and the insights that were obtained observing even the smallest details turned out to be the most valuable outcomes in terms of bringing value to the client.’

The team also has some reflections on the data-gathering and analysis side of things.

‘It was quite interesting to build a data-driven understanding of a system as complicated and teeming as the airport, though it did have its own challenges as well! Separating factors for the differences in evening and morning traffic, attempting to find out the slower days, and working with security checkpoint irregularities and discrepancies alongside all of that was quite the task,’ Dennis Karlsson tells.

The client was satisfied with the unique approach of the student team

The goal of the project was met as the team was able to provide a better understanding of the current situation of the terminal logistics. The results provoked plenty of discussion already during the final presentation. The client also pointed out the value of getting an outside perspective from the students who, thanks to their diverse backgrounds, succeeded in approaching informants at the airport on a low threshold and were able to showcase the current logistical situation with its challenges in a comprehensive and visually pleasing way.

Sami Kiiskinen, Vice President of Airport Development at Finavia Helsinki Airport, expressed his gratitude for the results: ‘We are also pleased with the results from an economical point of view.’ According to him, the cost to value ratio of a student project is not easily matched by private consulting firms. Joni Pekkanen, Service Manager of Finavia’s Security Services, summarized his thoughts on the project: ‘The team managed to analyze the logistics of the best airport in Northern Europe in just a few weeks.’

Project success is a combination of several factors

The supervisor of the project Professor Markku Kuula analyses reasons for success says that this project is an excellent example of cooperation between the School of Business and companies, where students get to solve real problems of companies.

‘In this case, many good things came together. First of all, the target company Finavia is a well-managed company known to all Finns. It is responsible for the operation of one of the best managed airports in Europe. Secondly, the company was able to describe the assignment clearly, and thirdly, an excellent group of students representing different subjects was selected to carry out the research, who were able to perform the task together commendably.’

Opiskelijoita Kauppakorkeakoululla. Kuva: Aalto-yliopisto / Unto Rautio

Customized Student Business Projects

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