In her New Year’s speech, the Danish Prime Minister, Mette Frederiksen, announced a new CO₂ tax as well as ambitious aviation goals for air traffic: By 2025, Danes should be offered green flight routes within Denmark and for all domestic routes by 2030.
In 2017, the Swedish government set the same 2030 fossil-fuel-free target for flights within Sweden, and by 2045 for all aircraft departing from the country.
The small Skellefteå Airport in Northern Sweden is vying for the title of world’s most climate-friendly airport. But the ambitions do not stop here.
Its owners, Skellefteå Municipality, commited to a “master plan” back in 2014. It was part of a strategy to stimulate the Swedish city, 250 km South of the Arctic Circle and 600 km North of Stockholm. The plan was, among other things, that the airport should be fossil-free.
Its director, Robert Lindberg, says ‘it’s easy enough to make the operation of an airport fossil-free. The big problem arises when one has to have made the rest of the business fossil-free. As the rules are today, there must be fossil fuel in the aircraft tanks. So we can’t quite reach the finish line yet”.
Since May last year, he has purchased Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF); biofuel made from food industry waste in Finland by energy companies Forum and Neste. Now, this makes up a proportion of the fuel in planes flying from Skellefteå. But in 2023 he hopes to offer flights entirely fuelled by SAF.
The manufacturers claim their fuel meanins reducing a flight’s CO₂ emissions by up to 80%.
“We are also in the process of signing a contract with a company that develops hydrogen-based aviation fuel,” says Robert Lindberg.
Aviation fuel produced from green hydrogen and captured CO₂ is something that Danish politicians and Danish companies are investing in.
Robert Lindberg believes biojet fuel is a start, commenting: “We can not change the whole world at once, but we can do it bit by bit with concrete action instead of just talking about it. There is a lot of talk in many countries. But saving the climate is not a project. It is a social change[…]through concrete actions.”
One of his concrete actions was to install a 1MW charger station for electric planes at the airport; one of the world’s most powerful aircraft chargers.
The municipally owned energy company, Skellefteå Kraft — Sweden’s largest after Vattenfall — has played a major role in setting up the charging station. Robert Lindberg has also been chairman of the board of the energy company for 12 years.
Skellefteå Airport is also not the only fossil-free airport in Sweden today. The state-owned company, Swedavia, which operates ten airports, including Arlanda in Stockholm, was able to announce in March last year that the company has gone from a climate footprint of 8,000 tonnes of CO₂ per year to zero since the previous year.1
The employees in Skellefteå Municipality and in the many municipally owned companies in the city are already taking advantage of this opportunity. The municipality has decided that all travel for business purposes must be made by purchasing sustainable aviation fuel.
Robert Lindberg is also deputy chairman of Svenska Regional Airports, the airports in Ørebro, Kalmar and Halmstad. He says these are also fossil-free.
One of Robert Lindberg’s latest initiatives is to realize the dream of getting the world’s perhaps largest electric aircraft fleet to Skellefteå. The two aircraft will be joined in the coming months by a further seven electric aircraft.
Battery company, Northvolt, is building the largest European factory in Skellefteå2 and is working to produce powerful enough batteries for large electric aircraft.
“I do not think electric planes will replace quite a few existing routes. But they may play a role in expanding the network of air routes and, for example, replacing buses,” says Lindberg.
For the time being, the airport is collaborating with Northvolt to try out a commuter aircraft that can take off and land vertically — “ELIS” — for scheduled services between Skellefteå Airport and Northvolt.
“I think we will have the first commuter plane of this type up and flying in Skellefteå next year,” asks Robert Lindberg.
Also on his to-do list is also a new major airport building — and to establish a direct route to Copenhagen.
“The corona pandemic has led us to start looking at things differently. SAS’s largest hub is Copenhagen, and many of our passengers have to move on from there. So why fly to Stockholm and so on to Copenhagen. It is bad for the climate and is a longer journey.” says Robert Lindberg.
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