For many decades, the aviation industry has instead been characterised by large-scale aviation. Profitable routes have been between large cities with as large planes as possible.
Kvarken hopes to become a forerunner
– Electric planes turn the traditional way of thinking upside down, as lesser trafficked flight routes might become interesting to operate due to lower costs. This is thanks to the fact that electric planes most likely will have lower operation and maintenance costs than traditional planes, explains Mr Mathias Lindström, Director of the Kvarken Council.
– In the end, everything is controlled by demand, but there are clear incentives for new patterns in air traffic.
A few years ago, the Kvarken Council started a project to gather knowledge on electric aviation. The idea is to prepare the region to make use of this new technology in the future, while also benefitting from being a forerunner in the field.
– Our region is unusually well-suited for electric aviation. It is not unrealistic to think that the Vaasa-Umeå route will be flown by electric planes in the future, Lindström notes.
Cheaper engines and maintenance
The reason why there is not a flight between Vaasa and Umeå today is first and foremost the fact that the route is not profitable to fly with larger traditional planes. What is it then that makes electric planes more affordable?
Firstly, electric engines are cheaper to manufacture than traditional airplane engines. Secondly, electric engines are much simpler constructions, which means that they do not need as much maintenance.
– In the long term, electric aviation will revolutionise the aviation market. Lower costs might make it more profitable to fly shorter distances with smaller planes, which would make an airplane seem more like a bus. New profitable routes between smaller towns might arise, instead of all air traffic passing through capitals. This, in turn, might also give regional air traffic an upswing, says Project Manager Mr Andreas Forsgren, who also has been part of the project.
Electric flights over Kvarken
Electric aviation has the greatest chances to succeed in areas, where there are few alternative modes of transport. This means, for instance, places without railway or a road network.
– In places with geographical obstacles, such as mountains or sea, electric aviation seems to be able to become a competitive alternative to trains and cars, explains Mr Arne Smedberg, CEO at BioFuel Region in Umeå, a participant in the Kvarken Council project.
Bearing this in mind, routes like Kokkola-Skellefteå and Örnsköldsvik-Seinäjoki fit electric aviation like a glove, especially seeing as they are short enough for the first-generation passenger planes with a range of 400 km. Also other distances within the Kvarken region might come in question, both within and between the countries.
A push from the battery cluster
Considering that a battery cluster is forming on both sides of Kvarken, it would of course be very appropriate if the region could be a forerunner in using batteries, and not only producing them. At the same time, the battery cluster might also increase the demand for transport when the regions on both sides of Kvarken work even closer together than what they do today.
– The main question is naturally if there is enough demand for different routes within the Kvarken region for electric aviation to be realistic. This we do not know yet today, says Mr Lars Westin, professor at Umeå University, also a participant in the project.
– Earlier air traffic attempts over Kvarken have often lacked a patient actor to market the flights and integrate the route with public transport on both sides of Kvarken. This will also be required of electric aviation, he points out.
Lars Westin, professor at Umeå University
The region is ready
Hence, having electric planes on the market in 2026 does not automatically mean that new routes come into existence. For this to happen there needs to be a demand for them, and probably also help from the public sector.
Ms Helka Kalliomäki, researcher in region studies at the University of Vaasa has participated in the Kvarken Council project and sees that there clearly is a will among the different actors in the region to push for electric aviation.
– This region has unusually strong cross-border collaboration, and many actors are inspired to push for electric aviation. What also makes electric aviation a realistic possibility is the fact that the aviation industry is pressured to renew itself, both in terms of the environment and considering how it has suffered during the pandemic, says Kalliomäki.
Feet firmly in the air
The Kvarken region is in good shape for electric aviation as the region has previous experience from building new types of cross-border business models that gather both private and public efforts.
– Many people probably find electric aviation unrealistic, but I am proud to say that our feet are firmly in the air. Not everyone believed in the new ferry either, but we pulled that off too, says Mathias Lindström.
Helka Kalliomäki, researcher in region studies at University of Vaasa
Here together with Mr Lars Westin, Professor in Regional Economics at Umeå University and researcher Mr Antti Mäenpää from the University of Vaasa (Photo: Anna Sand/bySand)
(Finding innovations to Accelerate the Implementation of electric Regional aviation) is to be seen as a first step of preparing the Kvarken region for an early implementation of electric aviation. The project increases the knowledge base about electric aviation, investigates the possibilities and surveys both the needs and the required technical investments.
The project’s partnership consists largely of actors in the Kvarken region, i.e. the counties of Ostrobothnia, South Ostrobothnia, and Central Ostrobothnia in Finland and the county of Västerbotten and municipality of Örnsköldsvik in Sweden. The geography of FAIR includes also Nordland County in Norway.
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