Short-haul flights crucial testing ground for decarbonising aviation

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The European Regions Airline Association (ERA) has condemned recent European Government announcements to ban short-haul air routes to reduce the environmental impact of aviation.

According to ERA, its airline members connect parts of Europe where air transport is both vital and often the only mode of transportation available to inhabitants in remote regions, islands and dispersed areas. It also highlights that the short-haul segment is creating the necessary push towards the decarbonisation of the sector, providing a testing ground for new technologies that will enable the green transition to a more sustainable industry. For example, electric and hydrogen-powered aircraft will be available first on short-haul routes by 2035, before being deployed on longer routes beyond 2050.

“Banning air routes is dangerous as it may be seen as good for the environment, but in reality, it is not for many reasons,” said Montserrat Barriga, ERA Director General. “Firstly, routes with the equivalent alternative route by train are very few and in most cases the rail network already has the market share anyway. Secondly, the initiative may result in an increase in passengers electing to use their cars to reach their destination. Thirdly, a lot of regional airlines operate routes with thin traffic, so it is unlikely that rail networks will replace sectors that are wholly unprofitable. Lastly, short-haul will be the first sector to test and deploy green technologies. It is therefore simply not effective to reduce CO2 emissions by banning short-haul routes.”

Barriga also argued that banning these routes will also create a sentiment against aviation amongst the public. The focus instead should be on developing solutions that can actually provide CO2 reductions, and not hinder their progress.

“Our industry takes it environmental responsibilities seriously and will do what is necessary to achieve its targets, but we cannot do it alone. We need a supportive policy framework to reach decarbonisation,” Barriga continued.

Improving air traffic management through the proper implementation of the Single European Sky (SES) would, she said, lower CO2 emissions of the intra-EU flights by up to 10%.

Study on electric air route between Umea and Are Ostersund Airport underway

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Swedish airport opearator Swedavia is taking part in a feasibility study for fossil-free aviation in northern Sweden, which has been granted SEK 9.5 million by the Swedish Energy Agency. Part of the study involves investigating an electric air route between Umeå Airport and Åre Östersund Airport.

The project is being run in partnership with the Municipality of Umeå, BioFuel Region, RISE Research Institutes of Sweden and RISE Processum. The project’s aim is to investigate the conditions needed for aviation powered by biofuels, electricity and hydrogen. The overall goal is to map out the conditions required for green aviation and to survey sustainable value chains as well as studying what the conditions at the airports are like for introducing fossil-free fuels.

“For many years, Swedavia has been involved in and driven the transition to fossil-free aviation, which is absolutely crucial to the transport of the future, which includes aviation,” said B-O Lindgren, Airport Director at Swedavia’s Umeå Airport.

We have driven this work through a number of initiatives and in collaboration with the rest of the aviation industry, with a focus on increasing the potential to choose sustainable aviation fuel. We are also working to prepare our airports for handling electric aircraft when these are available in the commercial market. We consider it very positive that the project is now starting up with our partners. It will be an important piece of the puzzle in the continued work to achieve fossil-free aviation – regionally, nationally and internationally.

Swedavia, which operates and develops 10 state-owned airports in Sweden, previously adopted a strategy for electric aviation to enable all the airports in its portfolio to handle electric aircraft and that the first commercial electric air route can be placed in service in around 2025.

In the Autumn of 2020, Åre Östersund Airport became the first of Swedavia’s airports to test and prepare the infrastructure to enable a transition to the increased electrification of aviation, under the electric aviation project, Green Flyway.