Norwegian ambitions for establishing the electrification of short-haul passenger aircraft laid out in new report
Widerøe Dash-8 at Avinor-operated Sandnessjøen Airport (photo: Wikimedia)
Thu 19 Mar 2020 – The first use of electric aircraft for domestic scheduled air travel in Norway is feasible by the end of the decade, finds a report by airport operator Avinor and the Norwegian CAA for the country’s government. If the right support and measures are put in place, the report foresees that by 2040 all domestic aviation in Norway will be operated with electrified aircraft, which would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 per cent compared with 2020. It proposes incentives regarding technology development, investment support and an attractive tax regime during the operational phase, alongside international innovation cooperation. An aviation zero emissions task force has already been set up to prepare and present a roadmap in mid-2020 that includes EASA, the Norwegian CAA, Airbus, Leonardo, Safran, Avinor and airlines SAS and Widerøe.
“In order to ensure that high-quality transport services continue to be provided in Norway, it is in Norway’s own interest – from the perspective of climate, district and transport policies – that zero- and low-emission aircraft are developed which are capable of operating on the unique Norwegian short-haul network under the prevailing meteorological conditions in the country,” said Norwegian Civil Aviation Authority Director General Lars Kobberstad at an event hosted by Rolls-Royce in Trondheim to hand over the report.
“The assignment given to us by the government has now been completed and the conclusions are very clear,” said Avinor CEO Dag Falk-Petersen. “Our recommendation is that Norway should be one of the main arenas in the world for the electrification of air travel.”
Norway’s dependence on aviation and a unique short-haul network, together with abundant access to renewable electricity, the political will to electrify the air transport sector, and interested and active stakeholders, made Norway an interesting test area and the first market for the electrification of aircraft, he added.
“Therefore, it is important Norway adopts a package of measures as quickly as possible,” he said.
The report finds that based on existing technological know-how and the expected pace of development, it should be possible to develop, certify and introduce electrified aircraft – meaning aircraft fitted with one or more electric motors for propulsion – carrying up to 19 passengers on regular civil scheduled flights between 2025 and 2030, and larger aircraft after that. These initial aircraft would have an effective range of about 350-400 km – an actual range of more than 500 km would be required for energy reserve – which would be sufficient for many domestic flights in Norway, including the vast majority of routes on the Norwegian short-haul network.
For longer range, given current known battery technology, it will be necessary to rely on series hybrid solutions where the aircraft is equipped with a battery and a ‘range extender’, such as a generator powered by biofuel, which can charge the batteries as and when necessary, or hybrid solutions that have both electric and conventional jet engines. A third possibility is to use fuel cells, says the report.
Despite the entry-into-service goals, the report cautions that the development of electrified aircraft is still in its infancy, “so it is not possible at the present time to make accurate predictions as regards timespans or costs.” It foresees smaller companies and start-ups positioning themselves in the 19-seat segment (certified aircraft in accordance with EASA CS-23 regulations), with the big aircraft and engine manufacturers likely to focus on larger aircraft development projects.
The report also highlights a potential risk that aircraft manufacturers may not find the short-haul, short-runway segment sufficiently attractive to invest in and the smaller companies may be unable to secure the financing required to complete the development process and actually launch an aircraft into the market.
Another challenge is that aviation regulations have mainly been written for fossil-fuel based engine systems and aircraft. The development of new electrification technology may well need changes in safety regulations and certification requirements, which will take both time and resources. “If the development of the framework does not form an integral part of technology development, it could delay the processes involved,” warns the report.
The report calls for the establishment in Norway of an international centre for the development, testing and implementation of zero- and low-emission aviation technology. Organised either virtually or physically, it would act as an arena for cooperation between players in different fields – aircraft, engines, batteries, airlines, airports, government authorities, research communities and other stakeholder groups. The report says clear criteria for participation and a funding model for the centre would need to be agreed.
Investment in the new electric aircraft will be a strategically important decision for airlines and comes with financial risk. The report suggests considering appropriate support schemes during the transitional phase for the purchase of new aircraft, creating grant schemes for the establishment of aircraft charging infrastructure and VAT exemption for light aircraft.
During the operational phase, to make it profitable for airlines to invest in electrification, the report suggests the Norwegian government provides clear signals that the tax regime will be adapted to make travelling on zero- or low-emissions aircraft relatively more affordable for both passengers and commercial operators than flights with conventional aircraft. Such policies could include VAT and air passenger tax exemptions or reductions on tickets through to 2040, subject to possible re-evaluation in 2035; adjustment on take-off charges; and a reduction in electricity tax for aircraft used in commercial operations, in accordance with a model taken from the shipping sector.
“It is vital that goals, initiatives and instruments are seen as an entirety,” conclude the report’s authors. “We recommend that the government establishes clear goals which are formulated in such a way that they appear effective and concrete – and that they set out a clear direction. This will be very important for the market players involved.
“However, the goals will only have the desired effect if they are followed up with binding and predictable incentives which are effective in all phases until zero- and low-emission aircraft are in regular scheduled traffic in Norway. We particularly wish to emphasise the importance of measures that will make the early adoption of new and climate-friendly technology both profitable and attractive to passengers, operators and other stakeholders alike.”
Accepting the report, Knut Arild Hareide, Norway’s Minister of Transport and Communications, said: “The world is facing a climate crisis and it is up to us in the transportation sector to make the biggest reductions in emissions. We must deliver on this, and electric aircraft may be part of the solution. I am now looking forward to reading this proposal.”