In a country known for cutting-edge design, Finland’s national carrier Finnair has unveiled its interiors for the new Airbus A350-XMB.

The airline is the first European customer for Airbus’ new aircraft aimed at rivalling Boeing’s revolutionary Dreamliner.

The interiors were designed by Helsinki firm dSign Vertti Kivi & Co, also the designer of Finnair’s new Premium Lounge at Helsinki Airport. Helsinki was named the World Design Capital in 2012.

The airline is promising bright and spacious cabin features, with ‘panoramic’ view windows, ambient lighting and on-board Wi-Fi.The Airbus A350 features an air filtration system that changes the air in the cabin every two to three minutes, designed to “enhance the wellbeing” of passengers and crew.

Finnair’s A350s will feature a 297-seat configuration with 46 seats in business class featuring fully flat beds. Economy class will be in a 3-3-3 layout with 208 standard seats that will only feature 31-inches (79cm) of seat pitch – a size that increasingly being adopted by airlines, reducing from the previous standard of 32 inches.

There will also be 43 ‘Economy Comfort’ seats at the front of the cabin featuring an extra four inches of legroom, improved headrests and high-quality headphones.

Finnair plans to begin operating its first A350s in the second half of next year, initially serving Shanghai, Bangkok and Beijing, with Hong Kong and Singapore A350 service to be added in 2016. Finnair has 11 firm orders and 8 options for A350 aircraft, which will form the backbone of the company’s long-haul fleet and drive expansion plans.

An issue facing the airline is Russia’s potential plans to close airspace in the response to European sanctions imposed over the Ukraine crisis. The airline said the A350 planes have the potential to fly around Siberia to reach Asia should the airspace be closed.

Airbus’s newest long-haul jet appears to have the range required to detour and still reach destinations in Japan and China around which Finnair has built its business model, Chief Executive Officer Pekka Vauramo said.

Comparison with Airbus A330 and A340 models that currently operate its long-haul routes suggest the twin-engine jet will have the capability for diversions, though Vauramo said “there are very few facts” available to indicate whether Russia will go ahead with airspace closures.

“The additional freight capacity of this plane translates to me that it does have the range, technically it’s possible,” the CEO said in an briefing in Vantaa, near Helsinki, while adding: “I don’t want to speculate about Russia. We all know too little about that one.”

Finnair has 11 firm A350 orders and eight options, with the first jets due to serve locations including Shanghai and Beijing — routes that could be impacted by a shutdown of Siberia’s skies. The model will also be used for flights to Bangkok, followed by Hong Kong and Singapore in 2016.

Even before the Ukraine crisis the A350’s introduction was critical to Finnair’s growth plans, Vauramo said, with the model “one of the main drivers” in a push to improve margins over the next three years and to double revenue from Asian services by 2020 compared with 2010’s level.

Finnair’s jets will feature a two-class configuration with 46 flat-bed berths in business class and 251 seats in economy, including some premium seating with more leg room.

With a long-haul strategy built around services connecting Europe with northeast Asia via the shortest routes over Russia, Finnair has more to lose than other carriers should Moscow elect to curb operations over Siberia.

Flights from Europe to Japan, northern China and South Korea would be hit hardest, according to flight-tracking website Flightradar24. Finnair has 115 weekly services across an area of Siberia 2700 miles across — a bigger proportion of its network than at Air France-KLM Group and Deutsche Lufthansa AG, the only airlines with more services spanning the region.

Finland’s transport ministry said yesterday that it’s conducting studies into the likely impact of an airspace shutdown as Russia threatens to widen its retaliation against the European Union in a tit-for-tat sanctions row.

Russia is weighing the prohibition of overflights to the Asia-Pacific, with measures “on the table” though “not necessarily immediate,” Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Aug. 7 in the country’s most recent comments on the matter.

President Vladimir Putin’s government is considering steps directed at airlines after EU sanctions imposed over the escalating conflict involving pro-Russia rebels in eastern Ukraine led to the grounding of Moscow-based airline Dobrolet, the recently formed low-cost unit of OAO Aeroflot.

with Bloomberg

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