The Nordics and the Future of Electric Flights

The Nordics regularly rank highly regarding sustainability and their environmental impact, but could they also lead the way in the future of aviation? 

Electric flights are still in their infancy, and fully electric, commercial flights are still firmly in the future until technology advances enough to support them due to limitations created by energy density. Meanwhile, current electric flights are limited to under 90 minutes and a range of 500 miles, with only a small amount of passengers or cargo. 

Engineers are currently trying to build a fully electric jet with capacity for 180 passengers, however, flight distance would be limited to under 500 miles, meaning that short-haul trips would be the first to be electrified, then transition to long-distance flights. 

Distrelec researched the flights departing from the Nordic region, looking at Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, and Finland to see which of the current flight paths could be turned into electric flights. Every month, there are over 300 flights leaving the Nordics that have the potential to be turned electric when the time comes, resulting in big wins when it comes to the environmental impact of our travel habits. 

As we move ever closer to an electric flight future, we’ve predicted Nordic flights that are likely to become fully electric.

Unsurprisingly, the shortest flights are all domestic. 90% of these flights are between Norwegian airports, they’re all under 40 miles and under 35 minutes of average flight time, however, they still emit around 30kg of CO2 on average per passenger.  

With an average of 100 passengers per commercial flight, this means that going electric can save 3,000kg of CO2 emissions just on one of these short-haul flights alone. When you calculate the frequency of these flights, you can see how the environmental impact adds up. 

The longest flights departing from the Nordics were primarily international flights. ⅗ of these flights were to countries like the United Kingdom, Poland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, and Germany. A further ⅕ of flights were regional flights, between Sweden and Finland, and Iceland and the Faroe Islands. And the final ⅕ of these flights were actually longer domestic flights from Visby to Skelleftea, Denmark and Oslo to Bodø. 

Visby to Skelleftea takes an average of 01:25 hours flight time over a distance of 491 miles, emitting 97kg per passenger. While Oslo to Bodø is a distance of 500 miles, the threshold for an electric flight, with a flight time of 01:26 hours and emission rates of 99kg of CO2 per passenger. 

It is quicker to fly internationally from both than it is to take these longer domestic flights. Visby to Hamburg is 429 miles total distance with an average flight time of 01:18, emitting less CO2 per passenger at 88kg. Meanwhile, passengers can also fly from Oslo to Hamburg quicker than it would take to get to Bodø, at a total distance of 456 miles and a flight time of 01:21, emitting 92kg of CO2 per passenger. 

Our analysis of all Denmark’s domestic routes found that 4177.2 tonnes of carbon emissions could be saved every month by converting all flights to electric flights. The main contributor to these emissions is the Copenhagen to Aalborg route, making 456 trips monthly and emitting 47kg of Co2 per passenger. 

Norway has the greatest potential for carbon emission savings with a total of 29,038.2 tonnes that could potentially be saved monthly should the country transition to electric domestic flights. The flight path contributing to the highest carbon emissions is the Oslo to Trondheim route, with 709 monthly flights at 58kg of emissions per passenger. 

In addition, our research showed that Sweden could also have a major impact on carbon emissions by switching to electric flights. Their monthly total carbon emissions for all domestic flights is 17,260.2 tonnes, and the flight route generating the highest amount of this was Stockholm Arlanda to Luleå at a monthly total of 2983.2 tonnes, more than the monthly total of Iceland and Greenland respectively. 

Iceland is the lowest producer of carbon emissions when it comes to domestic flights, with a total of 1993.8 tonnes of co2 emissions monthly. The flight route generating the most emissions is Reykjavik to Akureyri, departing on average 118 times and emitting around 48kg of co2 emissions per passenger. 

Greenland is the second lowest producer of carbon emissions, emitting 2390 tonnes of co2 monthly across 14 flight routes. The flight generating the highest amount of emissions is the Kangerlussuaq to Nuuk flight which departs 179 times per month and emits 54kg of co2 per passenger. 

Finally, Finland sat around the middle, generating 6263.7 tonnes of co2 monthly across 17 flight routes, however, over half of the emissions (4382.8 tonnes) can be attributed to the top 5 most frequent flights. The flight route responsible for the largest amount of co2 emissions is the Helsinki to Oulu route, departing on average 264 times and emitting 72kg of co2 per passenger. 

The total sum of monthly carbon emissions for flights that could be electrified across the Nordic countries sits at 61,123.5 tonnes, the equivalent of 773 aeroplanes at a maximum takeoff weight of 79,000kg when full of passengers, luggage, and fuel.

We, at Distrelec also analysed the international flights departing from the Nordics with the most frequent flight paths, generating a top 10 and calculating how many kilograms of CO2 could be saved every month, simply by transitioning to electric flights on these routes. 

The biggest offender when it came to carbon emissions was actually the Copenhagen to Amsterdam route, despite having fewer flights than the average per month. Taking the commercial flight average of 100 passengers, this would mean that the total carbon emitted for this flight route every month is 2971.4 tonnes. 

In total, based on these 10 flight routes alone, that’s a saving of 17,100,500 kg (17,100.5 tonnes) of CO2, or 205,206,000 kg (205,206 tonnes) annually, the equivalent of 2,597 aeroplanes at a maximum takeoff weight of 79,000kg when full of passengers, luggage and fuel.

There are over 100 international flights departing from the Nordic region every month, and while some of these flight routes depart less regularly (8 times per month at the lowest), the sheer impact of our flying habits is undeniable. 

Methodology 

Flight data was taken from Flight Connections, Air Miles Calculator was used to calculate miles and emission data. Electric flight length was based on Pipistrel Alpha Electro

To calculate the carbon emissions, we used the data regarding kg of CO2 emitted per passenger multiplied by 100 (average number of passengers on a commercial flight). We then multiplied this again by the number of times this flight departed monthly. 

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