The threatened future of Malmi Airport

The future of Helsinki-Malmi Airport is threatened by short-sighted city planning. Preparations are being made to turn the 122 hectare area of the Airport over to housing construction even though the City Planning Review 2003 shows that there is available room for more than 60.000 new people even without destroying Malmi Airport.

Helsinki-Malmi Airport is among the sites targeted for housing construction in spite of its weak ground that has many times over the decades been surveyed to be unfirm to a depth of 10-25 m and will thus make the area extremely expensive to build. A suburb for 10.000 people is planned to take the Airport's place, while the aviation activities would be discontinued and moved to another location about 70-100 km away from the users of Malmi Airport.

As an alternative for a new "replacement" airfield, there has recently been talk about "decentralizing" the aviation activities of Malmi to existing airfields. The nearest suitable airfields, however, are also about 100 km away from Helsinki. In addition, by "decentralizing" the operations, all synergy benefits of concentrated aviation, maintenance and repair activities - accumulated over six decades - would be lost.

The future population estimate of Helsinki has been strongly reduced in autumn 2002. While the present population is about 560.000, the estimate for 2025 is now 590.000-620.000 depending on the economic situation. Meanwhile, the City General Plan 2002 creates housing options for a total of 700.000 people. In addition, according to the most recent statistics, the population of the city has begun to decline. Taking all this into account, it is completely incomprehensible that instead of the numerous unbuilt areas inside Helsinki, the first place targeted for housing construction - with a hurried schedule - is a cultural and historical monument selected to the international World Monuments Fund's List of 100 Most Endangered Sites 2004 and 2006, by far the largest training center of professional pilots in Finland, the second-busiest airport in Finland by landings and the only general aviation airfield in the wide capital region.

In addition to destroying the finest old aviation milieu in Finland, moving the airfield operations away would be a fatal blow to pilot education in the capital region where a substantial number of potential aviators live. The aviation clubs operating at Helsinki-Malmi offer relatively inexpensive private pilot's licence training, while the Airport is easily accessible to anyone in the capital region. Voluntary maintenance work is to a large degree keeping the aircraft of these clubs airworthy. Because of the long distance to the "replacement" airfield, maintenance work would have to be made using the services of commercial aircraft maintenance companies, and the price of flying would permanently rise beyond the average general aviators' means.

From a general aviator's point of view, the idea of a "replacement" airfield 70-100 km away is absurd in other ways too. An hour of driving after a full work day just to get to an aircraft is not realistic especially because piloting an aircraft when tired is not good airmanship, and afterwards there would still be an hour's drive back home awaiting the exhausted pilot. Teenagers of the capital region, who would be the future generation of aviators, have no car nor a driver's license to begin with to get to the "replacement" airfield, and by coach the journey is expensive and even slower. The youngsters' sprouting interest in aviation would never have an opportunity to develop beyond flying kites and building scale models. If the airfield is moved to a distance of 70-100 km, the interest in learning aviation will wither away in the capital region.

With their decades of experience, the aviation schools and other aviation-related companies of Malmi Airport are aware of this. In their statements they have made it quite clear that no economic prerequisites for their operation exist at the proposed new distance from Helsinki.

Also the so-called one-runway alternative, in which one of the two runways would be closed and the space thus freed turned over to housing construction, would undoubtedly mean the beginning of the end of the Airport. Because small aircraft are sensitive to side winds, such an action would clearly limit pilot training and general aviation. In addition, noise complaints would immediately start echoing from the new houses built in the immediate vicinity of the Airport, leading to even more restrictions on flight operations. The one-runway alternative would in practice lead to bit-by-bit destruction of the whole Airport.

Helsinki-Malmi Airport in its present two-runway form is the pride and a part of the identity of the local inhabitants, who are vigorously in favor of protecting the Airport.

The residential area plans have been prepared at a fast pace. Even some prominent politicians at minister level have voiced their support of this butchery of national and international cultural heritage. The City General Plan has already been revised in late 2003 to preserve the Airport as a traffic area only until "a replacing location or the relocation of the operations of Malmi Airport to existing airfields and air bases has been investigated".

The year 2006 has proven too unrealistic for the forces behind the planned destruction of Malmi Airport. At present the City of Helsinki plans to gain control of the area at the end of 2010, and has approached the State with such a proposal. The State of Finland has a legal right to operate an airport at Malmi until 2034, but has in principle agreed to give up that right prematurely if certain conditions are met (that the area is planned for residential purposes, a viable replacement site is found, and the State receives acceptable compensation for the cost of moving the operations).

So far none of these conditions has been fulfilled (Helsinki's General Plan 2002 was annulled by the Supreme Administrative Court in 2006). However, there have been unsettling signs in written documents of the City's efforts to water down the conditions.

The State of Finland has in October 2003 signed the UNESCO Declaration Concerning Intentional Destruction of Cultural Heritage. This Declaration creates a moral obligation for the signatory States to act against such intentions. It explicitly states that the endangered site need not be listed as valuable heritage anywhere, so the fact that Malmi Airport as a whole has been selected both to World Monument Fund's List of 100 Most Endangered Cultural Sites and to the international DoCoMoMo Working Group's Finnish selection of significant sites of modern architecture is irrelevant, but goes to show that the cultural value of the living historic Airport has been internationally recognized.

With this in mind, the hope remains that the State of Finland considers moral obligations to the global community to outweigh the shortsighted building land demands of the sparsest-populated capital in Europe.