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This is the future for electric aviation in northern Sweden

Photo: Joby Aviation

Missed the bus? Don’t panic - take the electric plane home instead. By 2025, Skellefteå residents will be able to take vertical-starting electric flights for short commutes. This is because companies in the municipality have taken the lead in the development of electrified aviation.

Vertical-starting electric vehicles - so-called eVTOLs - will soon be a reality. The advantages are that they can take off from a space as small as a helipad, so we will soon see them in use in northern Norrland. A test route for eVTOL between Skellefteå Airport and Northvolt's site is now underway, thanks to support from the Swedish Energy Agency.

Already this autumn, the first electric aircraft will be in situ at Skellefteå airport, as Green Flight Academy begins an extensive pilot training scheme. Electric aviation does not fulfill the same function in the big cities, where the infrastructure on the ground is well developed.

But in northern Sweden there are many advantages.

- There is a real need in northern Norrland. The region has limited investments in communication solutions and a limited railway network, says Henrik Littorin, who coordinates the electric aviation work in the region. He has previously worked with strategy and sustainability issues at Swedavia and LFV.

Self-propelled electric aircraft are the next step

Today, many people commute by car to workplaces in the region. An example is the mining industry around Skellefteå.

- If you can travel with an electric plane instead of taking the car, it will save a lot of time. The next step may be partly autonomous passenger traffic in the air, but it is a few years away. But it can become a reality, partly because the price of a trip may be low.

Henrik is convinced that commercial electric flying will soon be available in Skellefteå. He believes it was no coincidence that they chose to test electric aviation in this region.

- What is needed is infrastructure and competence, both of which are present in Skellefteå. The airport has access to a large airspace, and one of Sweden's largest power companies, Skellefteå Kraft, is located here and they invest heavily in research and innovation. There is also expertise in battery development and energy storage courtesy of Northvolt. In addition, the airport made an investment decision which means that the airport now has 1 MW of available power to charge electric flights. This installation, one of the most powerful in the Nordic region, enables a number of exciting investments.

Green electricity gives a great effect

Sweden is well placed to develop an electric aviation ecosystem. For instance, there is widespread access to green electricity - other countries that rely more on fossil fuels do not have the same advantage.

-Sweden is also a large country but with a very low population density. With green flights you can travel across the country at a lower cost, at higher speeds, and in a more climate-friendly way than with cars.

All the early indications are that electric flights will be cheaper to operate than traditional flights. An electric motor is uncomplicated, and requires less maintenance. Batteries cost a lot, but the cost drops quickly if you use the batteries for a long time.

- When we start flying for real, we will see how well the batteries last in, for example, a cold climate. There is also a time aspect to consider. Saving time is also worth the money, says Henrik.

The Skellefteå region can both offer a good testbed for electric aircraft and an interesting market to get commercial traffic started quickly.

- The sector has developed pretty fast. There is already great interest in this and everything benefits from Skellefteå growing. The region also has a strong connection to electrification in general and the ecosystem that is emerging around it, says Henrik.

Will it replace road traffic?

Will electric aircraft enable people and freight to travel longer distances to help ameliorate the effects of such travel on the climate? Perhaps not yet.

- In the first place, it is as much a question of accessibility as it is of the climate. Electric aviation will replace some road and sea traffic and provide improved accessibility to many areas. But it will probably only be relevant for distances of 400-500 kilometers.

It will be technological advances that will determine how far and fast we can fly electric aircraft.

-The most important thing is that we start and that we also ensure that you can fly on biofuel for longer distances, says Henrik.

According to Henrik, the region is far ahead in planning and thinking when it comes to electrifying aircraft.

- Starting the flight school will train the electric pilots of the future. And we will not undertake reports and investigations - instead we will organize workshops and learn along the way.

But there are still many issues that need to be resolved. How should we optimize the electricity supply? How should the electricity be stored? Who will sell it? How fast can you charge a battery?

- There are many issues to be resolved here. Should we use wind power or maybe a photovoltaic system? This applies not only to aviation but to all electrification. We need to be responsive and work with others, says Henrik.

On paper, Henrik believes Skellefteå has all the prerequisites for success.

- Skellefteå Airport and the port are electrified. Skellefteå Bus also has an ambitious plan for "air buses". A real infrastructure is emerging around electrification now.


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