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Humans of Helsinki Airport: Development Manager Merja Haapanen

Article published
31.1.2019 at 09:00
Kehityspäällikkö Merja Haapanen
For the last 38 years, Merja Haapanen has been involved in the piece-by-piece expansions of Helsinki Airport. The scope of the current Development Programme, however, is something completely different.

Haapanen started working at Ilmailuhallitus (Finnish CAA), Finavia’s predecessor, as a recent construction engineer graduate in 1980.

“Initially, I was hired for one year. My job was to calculate expenses and send enquiries to contractors in a terminal expansion project. I was interested in construction, but at the time I knew very little about the aviation business,” Haapanen says.

What started as a temporary job became a long career path. In her role, Haapanen has become a bridge-builder between the people constructing the airport and the people operating it.

“In the early days, the technical people worked in their own group and the operative people in their own. When it was time to construct something, the builders began their work and the passengers adapted. Since then, the passenger experience has become central to all our thinking,” Haapanen describes.

A world-class passenger experience even during construction

The long work experience has proven to be useful in solving the challenges of Helsinki Airport’s current, largest-to-date terminal expansion, involving a large number of actors.

The project is carried out using an alliance model, in which project design and construction are carried out together by the different companies who share the risks and rewards.

“My role is to help professionals from different fields to collaborate better. The best possible outcome calls for dialogue, and I am the interpreter promoting this. We have an ambitious goal: to build a world-class airport and to keep the passenger experience at a high level throughout the whole project,” says Haapanen.

There are many needs and restrictions that need to be taken into account – regarding construction noise, for example.

“There is a hotel inside the airport, among other things,” Haapanen illustrates.

Preparing for future growth is not only seen in the passenger terminal, but also in the premises for airport staff.

“When evaluating the demand for locker rooms, we started with the number of ID cards. Around 10,000 people currently have work tasks in the airport gate area. In the future, we are scaling the number of locker rooms to meet the needs for a staff of 15–17,000,” Haapanen describes.

A community that works together

The years at the airport include many unforgettable events – in particular the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia.

“Quiet spaces were quickly arranged at Helsinki Airport, allowing shocked passengers returning from Southeast Asia to receive crisis help. For privacy, collaboration with authorities was organised away from the public eye. We received commendation for our emergency preparedness, but hopefully a similar exercise will never have to be organised again,” says Haapanen.

In 2010, the volcanic eruption in Iceland stopped air traffic all over Europe.

“The ash cloud brought the whole terminal to a halt. It was a memorable moment to walk around the empty spaces, turning off lights and shutting doors,” Haapanen recalls.

Now a Development Manager, she has been on alternation leave twice during her career.

“When you spend some time away, you see the beauty of this place with fresh eyes. Coming back, I’ve had a feeling that I still have a lot to offer to this community,” she concludes.

See more about the Terminal T2 expansion.

People & Aviation