On board for 47 years

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The year is 1969. Man walks on the moon. The first message is sent over ARPANET (today’s Internet).  And Christer Forsman, Sales Manager for the Nordics, starts his career at Finnair. 

It is fair to say that working at Finnair Cargo for 47 years is in itself a notable achievement, but consider this: when Christer Forsman went to work as Finnair office messenger that June day in 1969, there were no PCs, no Internet, no email, no calculators, no mobile phones – not even a fax machine. 

“Almost everything was done by hand or on foot,” recalls Forsman. 

“On my first day with Finnair, I walked straight over to the bank at 9 am to pick up the foreign currency rates for our finance department.  After that, you would find me delivering tickets to companies and travel agencies around town.”

That was when Finnair’s headquarters was nestled in the Helsinki midtown neighborhood of Töölö, and when Finnair Cargo’s operations largely consisted of mail and modest cargo consignments sent by small van to the airport. Forsman started in Cargo on 1970.

“I moved to sales in 1989 after a call from senior management,” recounts Forsman. 

“It was a three-question interview; can you speak Swedish, do you have a car, and would you like to join the sales department? I answered ‘sure, why not’, and ever since I’ve been in cargo sales.”

Career tracks aircraft development

Forsman sees the major milestones of his career in terms of the technological advancements made in aircraft design and capacity, and the new routes and market access made possible by them.

“My earliest cargo experiences were with the Douglas DC-8. Everything was on a single deck – the flight cockpit, cargo bay and passenger cabin. In fact, the flight crew had to walk through the cargo area to get to the galley!”

On some domestic routes utilizing Fokker F27s, Forsman notes that newspaper companies would purchase the first several rows of seating in the cabin for cargo space. 

“They had special bags that fit just right in the seats. It was an innovative use of space, but on one occasion, a passenger became angry when no seating was left for his companion,” Forsman says with a sigh. 

DC-10 a game changer

In Forsman’s view, Finnair’s acquisition of the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 was a watershed event in their cargo business and in his career. 

“Up until 1983, our routes were limited to Europe and New York. The DC-10 changed all of that. With its extended range, we were the first airline in Europe to fly non-stop to Tokyo. This opened up enormous opportunities for both passenger traffic and our cargo network in the Far East.”

World events also opened up new opportunities. 

“One example was the fall of the Berlin Wall,” recalls Forsman.

“Just after that happened, we flew to Warsaw to speak with the Polish postal officials. They had never spoken with anyone from outside the Eastern Bloc. They immediately flew back to Finland, and we started doing business the very next day.”

Next chapter starts this year

Today, as Finnair Cargo is on the cusp of  inaugurating its SkyChain Cargo Management System (CMS) and then moving to the new COOL Nordic Cargo hub terminal at Helsinki Airport, Forsman says his team is doing its part for the big transition. 

“Our main task now is moving our sales database from our present system over to SkyChain. It’s a big change, with lots of challenges, but we are looking forward to moving on to the next generation.

“Still, it does come to mind that when I joined the company 47 years ago, this level of technological change was simply unimaginable.

“We’ve come a long way,” notes Forsman.

We asked Christer Forsman three questions. Here are his insights:

1.  Describe Finnair Cargo in one word. 
“Reliable”
 
2.  What is your most vivid memory during your career? 
“Back in the '80s, we once opened an unmarked crate in our shipping warehouse only to find a young girl inside with a flashlight, book and some apples. She said she was going to a Bay City Rollers concert in Manchester, England. Her mother thought it was cheaper to send her via Finnair Cargo.”
 
3.  What is your all-time favorite airplane?
“The Convair CV-440 Metropolitan. A great airscrew (propeller) airplane equipped with Pratt&Whitney double Wasp piston engine. We could take out the seats and use it for cargo flights in the evening. If you were a passenger onboard, it was smooth – like flying in piimä (Finnish for thick buttermilk).
 

Text by Michael Larkin 

Published July 4, 2016

Category: Finnair Cargo

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