Mauri Leppala of Finnair Receives Award from Finnish American Lawyers Association

Mauri Leppala is in charge of all operations at Kennedy Airport in New York City for Finnair. He has provided invaluable assistance to members of the Finnish American Lawyers Association (FALA) in their trips to Finland. In appreciation, the FALA presented an Award to Mauri at a dinner at the Chi Restaurant in Westbury Long Island New York on September 18, 2009. The award was presented by the President of the FALA, Robert Alan Saasto, Esq.
Mauri joined Finnair on March 1, 1971 as a passenger service agent at Helsinki Vantaa airport. After basic training, he continued as a Traffic Officer performing weight and balance calculations for Finnair flights. Around 1973 he was trained with 6 other colleagues in safety training to work as a Flying Traffic Officer on Finnair domestic flights in Finland. In addition, he worked for Finnair in many Eastern European airports to provide relief for Finnair Sales Managers for vacancies due to vacations or other reasons. These “relief tours” included Leningrad (which is now St. Petersburg), Moscow, East Berlin, Warsaw and Budapest.

In those years Finnair also operated their own cargo flights. Those flights took Mauri to several places around the globe, such as Kuwait, Dubai, Bahrain, Madras (which is now Chennai in India), Singapore, and Asmara in Ethiopia. Mauri spent longer term summer reliefs in the 70’s in Oslo Norway, and in Gotherburg Sweden. In the Fall of 1977, he spent nearly 3 months in Kano, Nigeria, to be part of Finnair’s Umrah and Hajj operations between Kano and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.

In 1979 Mauri had his first permanent position in Copenhagen Denmark at Kastrup airport. He spent 4 years there.

When Finnair inaugurated the first Nonstop flight between Europe and Japan, he was “recruited” by Bo W. Long, (a renowned Finnair and Finnish professional airline management person) to assist Bo Long in opening the airport in Narita, Japan, for Finnair. During those 7 unforgettable years, he often visited Seoul in South Korea and Hong Kong.  In Japan he became involved in matters beyond just the concerns of Finnair by involving himself in issues affecting the entire  airline industry. In his last three years in Japan he was the Chairman of AOC, which was the Narita Airline Operators Committee. While with the AOC, he was involved directly with industry wide  organizations such as Airport Authorities, Civil Aviation Authorities and many others.

His industry wide experiences in Japan served Mauri very well in his responsibilities at JFK airport in NYC. In addition to being the President for a year, he held numerous positions in KAAMCO, Kennedy Airport Airlines Management Council. He also served one year as the President of the JFK Chamber of Commerce.

During his years at JFK, Mauri has had extensive contact with Florida. Mauri’s position at JFK in NY covered Miami as well as several other destinations in the Caribbean. Mauri has good memories and thoughts of the Sunshine State. Mauri knew many of the pilots from Finnair that retired in the Lake Worth area. He attended events in the Finnish and Finnish American community in Florida both personally and on behalf of Finnair. In those visits he and his wife got to know personally several of the Finnish motel owners on Federal Highway in Lake Worth, including the New Sun Gate Motel and the Shangri La Motel. Mauri recalls one Finland Independence Day when Finnair brought at that time a very popular Finnish group, Solistiyhtye Suomi, to Lake Worth. There were two celebrations, one at the Lake Worth Casino and the other at the Gulfstream Hotel.

Mauri vividly recalls one festive occasion at the pool of Shangri La. A very popular Finnish composer and musician, Erik Lindstrom, was staying there celebrating with his wife their Wedding Anniversary. After midnight they all celebrated by singing one of his most famous songs named “Ranskalaiset korot” which in English is “French high heels”.  Mauri and his wife toured Key West and visited Hemingway”s favorite bar. He and his wife had many opportunities to admire the Caribbean sunset on the waterfront, and to enjoy the artists appearing in those locations.

On 9/11 Mauri watched from his office window at JFK when something hit the South Tower of the World Trade Center. He saw the fire ball. A construction crew under his window saw it too and they all watched the now two burning towers. They saw both towers collapsing and a short while after that the Police arrived at JFK and emptied the whole terminal, and most of the airport. There was a complete silence at that part of JFK.
A high ranking Finnish SITRA delegation (a Finnish innovation fund) was on a trip to the US West Coast and had difficulties to get back home after 9/11. Several days passed before the daily New York flight was able to leave to Finland from JFK.

Mauri is proud to have met Ben Sliney, a member of FALA, who traveled to Finland with the FALA on one of their trips there. It was Ben Sliney who was working that morning at the ATC Control Center in Herndon, Virginia, and it was he who ordered all the civil aviation flights in the US airspace to land immediately to the nearest airports from their current positions.

Mauri’s wife, Kiia, has been extremely supportive of Mauri during his career. While on assignment around the world, Kiia worked on her own airline related businesses in Copenhagen, Tokyo and presently at JFK. In 2004 Mauri sustained a stroke and with Kiia’s crucial support, he was able to recover and return to his duties at JFK for Finnair. Mauri and Kiia live near Kennedy Airport in a beach community, City by the Sea, in Long Beach, Long Island, NY. They had moved there in December of 1989 after having lived for 7 years in Akasaka, which is right in the middle of Tokyo, Japan.

When asked to describe the highlights of his career, Mauri responded as follows:
“I consider it to be richness to have had the pleasure to meet people from different cultures and continents. It has been also an honor to meet Heads of States, especially at JFK, in connection with the United Nations and also official visits of Finland’s Presidents and Ministers, when arriving and departing via JFK. Also, during my years in Japan, I very well remember President Koivisto’s State Visit and Finnair’s first ever Trans-Siberian operation from Helsinki to Tokyo.   
We who have had the opportunity to be in this business for a long time have many Golden Memories of times when the business had a different character. Many of us call those years the “Golden Times”. Nowadays dark clouds over the economy have also brought a number of clouds over this industry as well. The clear majority of my memories are bright and cheerful but there are also many not so pleasant. The very nature of my business and position demands confidentiality and I can not therefore go into those details.” 

Robert Alan Saasto, Esq.
President FALA