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Finland unveils plan for electric aircraft routes across Lapland region

The trial period will initially begin with the use of renewable aviation fuel, but will later switch to using electric aircraft.

Electric aircraft could make it possible to operate routes that cannot run profitably with current fleets. Image: Samuli Huttunen / Yle

An experimental project operating out of Enontekiö Airport in the northwest corner of Finland is set to test the viability of using electric airplanes to fly routes across the wider Lapland region.

"When someone from Enontekiö leaves for Rovaniemi, the journey takes at least four hours by car, but flying would take half an hour," Enontekiö Airport CEO Marko Halla told Yle.

The advent of electric planes has the potential to revolutionise travel, as routes could become more profitable even with smaller numbers of passengers.

That could mean the beginning of year-round air traffic at Enontekiö Airport, Halla predicted.

"Lapland's internal air traffic is designed so that it can be operated by electric aircraft. The location of Enontekiö is central, the longest flight distance from here is about 300 kilometres, and the range of an electric plane is good enough for that," he said.

A route from Rovaniemi to Tromsø in Norway, via Enontekiö, will be trialled during the autumn. The journey takes about eight hours by car, but only one hour by plane - including stopovers. Initially, a 19-seater propeller turbine aircraft will fly the route.

"There are a lot of Finnish workers in northern Norway, as the University of Tromsø cooperates with Finnish universities, so students, researchers and professors travel there. And an important group are tourists, there is a lot of tourist traffic between Rovaniemi and Tromsø," Halla said.

He added that the reform of Finland's social and healthcare services could lead to an increased need to travel, in particular if specialised care becomes centralised in one part of the region, and reduced travel times may benefit patients. A patient could be transferred from Ivalo to Rovaniemi within one hour by plane, he pointed out, a journey that would take between three and four hours by road.

Renewable fuels to help cut aviation emissions

Initially, the new routes to and from Enontekiö will be flown by aircraft with internal combustion engines using renewable aviation fuel.

Authorities in both Sweden and Norway have previously announced that domestic flights will be fossil-free within a decade. Finland has not yet made any such commitment.

However, electric aircrafts are just one option for reducing aviation emissions in the future.

"Airlines have a lot of internal combustion engine equipment, and solutions must be found that can be used in an economical and at the same time in an environmentally responsible way," according to Henri Hansson, Technical Director of the airport company Finavia.

Story continues after photo

100% renewable aviation fuel produced by Neste has been tested in the ATR 72-600 propeller turbine aircraft. Image: ATR

The short-term solution for the next few years will be using renewable aviation fuels, the use of which will increase as production increases. Hansson added that existing internal combustion engines can also be converted to use hydrogen and hydrogen-based electric fuels.

"Existing internal combustion engines will be used in aviation for a long time, using renewable aviation fuel. Electric flights are a new option for the short-term, and the hydrogen economy for longer-term, enabling airlines to produce efficient long-haul routes," Hansson said.

The EU set a net zero target for CO2 emissions from international aviation by 2050 at the Glasgow climate summit last year. This will require a significant increase in the use of renewable aviation fuels, among other objectives.