FINLAND. Helsinki Airport has officially opened its new extension, called Aukio.

Airport operator Finavia said eleven new commercial units feature in the facility, including a World Duty Free store. The shopping selection combines Finnish brands with international favourites, such as the Toyland toy store, it said.

Aukio visual: A spectacular event plaza uses the latest technologies to immerse passengers in Finnish culture and nature.

Other retail units include Finnish fashion and lifestyle brand Marimekko; Scandinavian homeware store Iittala; a Moomin shop (with products based on the comic book characters); a Kalevala, Suunto, Lapponia store offering jewellery and watches from these Finnish brands; and a Finspiration souvenir store.

Japanese restaurant Ajisen Ramen, which has 800 outlets in Asia, is among the food & beverage highlights. The Helsinki Airport restaurant is only the brand’s second location in Europe.

The event plaza’s 360 degree landscapes take in Finnish locations and a series of natural events.

Aukio encompasses 33,400sq m of terminal facilities, of which 25,000sq m will be in use by passengers, Finavia said. An additional 55,000sq m of apron will be added for aircraft parking and ground handling.

Finavia said Aukio’s architecture, design and atmosphere were a testament to Finnish skills, and its aim is to provide passengers with a “refreshing moment of rest and relaxation before their next flight”.

“Aukio can rightfully be described as a display window for our country, as millions of international passengers get their first taste of Finland at the airport,” commented Helsinki Airport Director Joni Sundelin, from Finavia. “Our focus throughout development has been on ensuring that passengers are left with an exceptionally positive impression of Finnish design, smoothness, nature and peace.”

Volunteer passengers tried dishes from Japanese restaurant Ajisen Ramen during a test run of Aukio’s facilities earlier this week.

Sundelin said the most important aspect of Aukio is its event plaza, in which the aim is to place passengers “in the middle of Finnish nature” through an immersive spatial experience that showcases the four seasons.

“Locations where the event plaza’s 360 degree landscapes were filmed include Koli, Olos, Luosto, Yövesi in Saimaa, and the Kalevankangas nature reserve in Mikkeli. Passengers get to witness the breathtaking Aurora Borealis, vibrant autumn colours, a rippling stream and the whistling wind,” explained Finavia Chief Digital Officer Heikki Koski.

“The central element of the forest-inspired plaza is a LED screen that is seventy-five metres in width and two metres in height. This combination of special technologies is unique on a global scale.”

Sundelin said “tightening” international competition is pushing Finavia to come up with ways to stand out among other large airports, and the event plaza is an example of this.

For the first time, a passenger lounge open to all passengers for an entry fee will be opened at the airport. No business class ticket or airline membership card will be required to enter the Plaza Premium Lounge, Finavia said. It will open at Aukio in late February/early March.

A range of new technologies have also been employed to create an “ultra-modern” security control which aims to make the security check process smoother and faster as well as ensuring sufficient capacity.

“Finavia builds its investment programmes and plans its operations based on four basic pillars of experience,” said Sundelin. “These are the feelings of leisureliness, rest, Finnishness and security. The customer experience is at the heart of our strategy.”

Aukio is part of Finavia’s €1billion development programme which hopes to “secure Helsinki Airport’s position as a leading European airport for travel between Asia and Europe while maintaining excellent flight connections between Finland and the rest of the world”. The expansion will enable Helsinki Airport to serve 30 million passengers annually.

The inauguration was preceded by a nearly one-year-long trial and training period, in which thousands of airport personnel participated. The new facilities were also given a test run by about 200 volunteer passengers earlier this week (on 6 February).