Cargo is in tune with the music


Finnair Cargo knows the score when it comes to transporting instruments for an orchestra tour.

The range of freight carried by Finnair Cargo never ceases to amaze. Everything from containers brimming with fresh salmon to vital temperature-sensitive medicines are transported across the globe in the bellies of Finnair aircraft.

Finnair Cargo’s expertise touches on just about every aspect of human activity, from food and health to manufacturing and entertainment. The most recent example of that last category came in fall 2015 when the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra (RSO) set off on a five-concert tour of Japan.

“The tour was perfectly organized by Japan Arts and the concerts have been very successful,” says Heikki Tikka, the RSO’s stage manager. The main concert in Tokyo’s Suntory Hall featured violin soloist Akiko Suwanai and, under the baton of conductor Hannu Lintu, inspired a standing ovation from a packed house.

Handle with care

“This time the cargo was relatively small – only 32 boxes with a gross weight of 2,869 kilograms,” says Tikka. “This was because the program consisted only of music by Sibelius. There were no large percussions like marimba, vibraphone, or tubular bells and no harp. Still, it takes a lot of space to get eight double basses, four timpanis, and five dress boxes onto the plane.”

The instruments are old and valuable, Tikka explains. “They have to be packed carefully, and radical changes in temperature and humidity should be avoided during the transportation. We have a specially made box for every instrument.” 

Tikka and his team loaded the truck at Helsinki’s Music Hall and the local cargo partner Gli-yhtiöt took the freight to the Finnair Cargo terminal at Helsinki Airport. That is where Jorma Westberg, airfreight export manager of forwarder Beweship, organized packing the load in pallets.

Beweship is known for handling sensitive cargo, from fresh or frozen food to fine art. “We flew the Chinese Terracotta Soldiers exhibition in and out of Finland last year,” says Westberg. 

“We have been handling band and orchestra equipment for more than 30 years. Our knowledge is based on handling the most famous bands with full service from arrival to departure when they tour in our area. When orchestras and bands are on tour, everything has to proceed like clockwork, to ensure that the artists can perform to their best,” he explains.

Easy entry for musicians

The cargo space must be secured from the airline, timing issues need to be agreed upon, and many other details need to be fixed well in advance. Due to the sensitive nature of the cargo, one of the most important tasks is the handling by the ground handler and supervision of the pallets by Beweship's airport staff.

At the venue, Tikka and his colleague Mikael Tiittanen take care of all the bigger instruments including double basses, percussion, timpanis, and so on. 

“We also build the sitting order and put the music on the stands. So basically our job is to make sure that the musicians can just walk in, sit down, and start playing. After the concert we load the gear back in the boxes and make sure everything is securely packed.”

Expect the unexpected

Not everything always goes quite to plan. “Before my time with the orchestra the truck got stuck in a snow storm somewhere in Norway and the whole concert was performed using borrowed instruments,” tells Tikka. 

“It also took over a month to ship the freight to Benin once. Another time a musician forgot his passport in his tails pocket and the whole truck had to be unloaded by the motorway – only to discover that the passport was in his shoulder bag all along.” 

There were no such problems on this tour. “When the cellists took their cellos from the boxes after the flight they were in perfect pitch. That gives a picture of how carefully the cargo was handled,” says Tikka. “Or perhaps someone in Finnair Cargo had tuned them!”

Text by Tim Bird
Orchestra photo by Paul Boström
Cargo photo by Finnair Cargo


Published November 23, 2015

Category: Collaboration, Finnair Cargo