Mattias Frithiof: The Nordic countries have ambitious agendas for the transfer away from fossil-based aviation fuels. Sweden aims for all domestic flights to be 100 percent fossil-fuel free by 2030 and for all international flights departing from Swedish airports to be fossil free by 2045.4
SAF is a key part of continuous efforts to improve the climate impact of the aviation sector, and electrified aviation will further enhance performance.
A number of initiatives, both public and private, are striving to realize the necessary development of regulation, infrastructure and aircraft technologies.
As mentioned earlier, the development of alternative aviation fuels and technologies will be gradual and first deployed on a smaller scale. Ground infrastructure, airport systems, airline fleets and business models will take time, and funding, to readjust. However, herein also lies a possibility.
There are approximately 120 regional airports in the Nordic region with small-scale traffic, often feeding to the major hubs in a traditional hub-and-spoke system. Over the long term, in part due to initial limitations of new technologies, opportunity will arise to establish new connections and economic relations—in essence, a more distributed and decentralized system. This evolving situation offers an opportunity to better “manage the asset” among the 100-plus regional airports and within the surrounding support structures in the Nordic region—to generate greater value from the airport asset itself and enhance economic activity throughout the region.
What steps can airports take now to enable greener flight?
Gaël Le Bris: SAF is available at some airports in Western Europe and North America, including Los Angeles International Airport, Oslo Airport, and Stockholm Arlanda. Smaller airports, such as Clermont-Ferrand Auvergne (CFE) in France and Ängelholm-Helsingborg in Sweden, are joining the movement to transition to SAF. The main obstacle to wider implementation is the supply chain, as production must be further developed. Airport operators, such as San Francisco International Airport and Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, have been proactively advocating for these alternative fuels. For instance, SFO has a SAF Stakeholder Working Group bringing together the aviation stakeholders and the fuel industry.
Advanced air mobility (AAM)5 has yet to become a commercial reality. There is still uncertainty on the timeline for the emergence of these new ways to fly. However, airport practitioners should start exploring high-level planning scenarios. They need to consult their air carriers and other flight operators as well as their fixed-base operators—with supporting guidance and tools.6
While power sharing and smart power management can provide a short-term solution, onsite power generation and storage should be on the table to increase resilience. Regarding hydrogen, there is a whole supply chain to develop. Ultimately, the emergence of a hydrogen economy will create a large-scale supply chain that will benefit aviation. In the meantime, we need to develop a cost-efficient, aviation-specific framework that can address the small demand of the first hydrogen-powered aircraft operators, especially at smaller, remote airports. Groningen Airport Eelde in the Netherlands is seeking to implement a hydrogen-unit production powered by an on-site 22 MW solar farm.
Earlier, you mentioned the potential wider impacts from electric flight. Can you expand upon how electric flight can positively affect accessibility and economic vitality?
Mattias Frithiof: Connectivity and accessibility are key concepts in what is commonly called the “new economic geography,” a concept coined by the economist and Nobel laureate Paul Krugman. Rapid technological advances, more cost-effective ways of transporting people and goods, and innovative communications reduce geographical barriers. This creates the conditions for spreading the competitiveness of individuals and companies beyond the local horizon. While originally a theory to explain international trade relations and macroeconomics, the concept provides a way to understand regional and local development. Increased accessibility will, according to the new economic geography theory, improve the performance of regional economies.
Aviation is provided where demand is high and where connectivity is crucial, whether it is on an international, a national or a regional scale. Surely, major economic centers will still be vital destinations. But, to what extent can aviation, initially constrained by technological limitations, generate new economic relations? Can shorter travel times and higher frequencies open up medium-haul commuting to additional groups of travellers? A shift to greener flight can bring greater connectivity and wider benefits.
What are the main takeaways regarding planning for greener flight?
Gaël Le Bris: Greener flight must embrace greener solutions from the curbside to the airspace. So, holistic planning is essential. It requires increased collaboration among stakeholders to remove all obstacles to develop greener flight and ground infrastructure. Ground handling is just one example. The conversion of ground support equipment (GSE) to electricity is gaining traction. Individual airlines and ground handlers have been progressively transitioning to electric GSE. Airports are also enacting policies for expediting this process. Virtually all airport vehicles can be electrified, from the buses to the aircraft de-icing trucks; models are already available commercially, and manufacturers are working on expanding capabilities to add to the list high-performance specialized vehicles, such as firefighting and winter operations apparatus.
Mattias Frithiof: Greener flight is essential to supporting the health of the environment and people, and it also brings greater opportunity to advance more distributed and decentralized economic activity and social sustainability. Pushing forward to implement new technologies is necessary in the broad effort to reduce carbon emissions and provide enduring solutions that preserve aviation’s critical role around the world.
1 International Civil Aviation Organization
2 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, World Meteorological Organization, United Nations Environment Programme; in addition, according to a Manchester Metropolitan University-led international study: when the non-CO2 impacts were factored in, aviation’s part was calculated to be 3.5 per cent of all human activities that drive climate change.
3 IATA, Developing Sustainable Aviation Fuel
4 Fossil-Free Aviation 2045
5 Advanced air mobility (AAM) includes urban air mobility (UAM) and regional air mobility (RAM). It encompasses a wide variety of vehicles with different capabilities: vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL), short takeoff and landing (STOL) operating on runway shorter than 1,500m, and conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL).
6 WSP is developing for the U.S. Transportation Research Board a guidebook for planning for the emergence of electric aviation at airports. Along with the research report, an assessment tool will be available, to estimate the long-term electricity demand of the entire airport ecosystem considering the “electrification of everything”—from the curbside to the runway.