Norway’s state-owned aviation company, Avinor, has pledged their commitment to developing a range of electric airplanes for short-haul flights around the country.
Currently, electric planes remain in the prototype stage, bogged down by issues of heavy batteries and short distance capabilities. Similar to how a Tesla can’t drive as far as a gasoline-powered car, electric planes are unable to stay in the air for more than a couple hours.
Advances are being made by ambitious manufacturers, however, who are pushing fossil fuel-free technology to new limits. In 2015, the two-seat E-Fan aircraft made by Airbus crossed the English Channel in a demonstration flight. Following other successful tests, production of a limited line of the planes began last year.
Additionally, a Slovenian-made two-seater with a one-hour flight capacity – designed for flight school trainings – has been approved for use in Australia. There are several other prototypes too, including a unique NASA model with 14 propellers and a 12-seater hybrid created by Zunum Aero with a 1,126-kilometer (700-mile) range.
But adoption of electric planes for commercial passenger transportation will never take off unless significant investments are made toward increasing weight capacities (so the vehicles can actually carry passengers), further boosting battery weight-to-power efficiency, and building the necessary supportive infrastructure.
So, Norway stepped up to the plate.
“Airbus told us they need a customer and they need a market – and we can offer them both,” Dag Falk-Pedersen, the head of Avinor, said at an aviation conference in Oslo, as reported by Reuters. “Of course, they need a bigger market and more customers. But someone has to start.”
Falk-Pedersen believes that the small, mountainous nation is the perfect environment for electric aircraft due to the number of short flights operated between regional airports located near fjords and hillsides. Given the geographic obstacles, many Norwegian airports have short runways, thus presenting a challenge for traditional aircraft. Electric planes, on the other hand, can lift off and land quickly.
“In my mind, there’s no doubt that by 2040 [regional flights within] Norway will be operating totally electric,” Falk-Pedersen said.
The Scandinavian country’s venture into electric aviation is in line with their overall commitment to lowering greenhouse gas emissions by adopting new technology.
According to Reuters, Norway led the world in electric car sales in 2017 – 52 percent of all new cars purchased were electric, marking the first time that gas-powered cars were in the minority. The shift was prompted by generous tax breaks and subsidies created by Norwegian lawmakers.
Ironically, the large government budget that allows Norway to invest in green technology stems from their massively profitable oil and natural gas production industry, projected to net 183 billion Norwegian krone ($23 billion US) in 2018.
Financial details of the aircraft plan are not yet available.