OSLO: By 2040, Norway has promised all of its short-haul flights will be on electric aircraft. It could revolutionize the airline industry.
In July 2018, Norway’s transport minister Ketil Solvik-Olsen and Dag Falk-Petersen, the head of the country’s airport company Avinor, took a very special flight together.
In front of the press they squeezed into the cockpit of a two-seat plane made by the Slovenian company Pipistrel. With Falk-Petersen at the controls, the pair took a short flight lasting a few minutes around Oslo in an Alpha Electro G2.
The flight’s novelty is partly explained by the aircraft’s name; it’s entirely powered by electricity. Battery-powered aircraft have made the leap from fantasy to drawing board to production. But it’s just the start.
Solvik-Olsen and Falk-Petersen weren’t just flying this plane for a lark; it was to underline one of Norway’s most dramatic plans to cut down on its carbon emissions in the decades ahead. By 2040, Norway intends all short-haul flights leaving its airports to be on aircraft powered by electricity.
It’s one of the most far-reaching promises yet to cut down on aviation’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. But there is one major barrier – there are no airliner-size electric-powered aircraft being built yet.
The electric aircraft market currently consists of small aircraft; the one the Norwegian pair flew barely has room for two fully grown adults to fly together (both Solvik-Olsen and Falk-Petersen said they went on strict diets before the flight). But Falk-Peterson says that will change very quickly.
He says that a few years ago, Norway’s aviation chiefs had a sceptical view of all-electric aviation.
“Then about three years ago our board of directors went down to Airbus, in Toulouse,” says Falk-Peterson. “Airbus told us they had been doing a lot of work in this area already. And Boeing, through [aircraft maker] Zunum Aero and also with Nasa. That’s why we decided to have a programme to electrify the flights in Norway.”
Norway is a good place for such experiments. Much of the country’s terrain is mountainous and there are many offshore islands, which mean there are a lot of short-haul flights (Avinor runs no fewer than 46 airports in Norway). Road, rail or boat travel often take a lot longer than a short flight, especially during the winter when snow and ice can block roads and tracks.