NORWAY’S WIDEROE FIRST IN PIONEERING ELECTRIC OPERATIONS

by Andreas Spaeth
7
September 10, 2022
Wideroe
Tecnam P2012 Traveller

Norway’s Wideroe is leading the way with all-electric aircraft which is not surprising as it has been a pioneer in connecting regional Norway.

Widerøe Airlines is an institution in Norway, a regional airline that was formed by a pilot back in 1934, flying planes equipped with floats or skies. Widerøe’s mission has always been to connect remote corners of this huge Scandinavian country, cut through by deep fjords and covered by many snow-capped mountains.

During the pandemic, as domestic flights were still going strong in Norway out of necessity, Widerøe briefly became Europe’s largest airline – even though its fleet only consists of 40 Dash-8 turboprops of all variants and just three jets, Embraer E190-E2s.

Carrying about 2.5m passengers between 45 airports in Norway and a few other European destinations, Widerøe recently has been perceived as an industry pioneer. They were the first carrier worldwide operating the Embraer E2 jet in 2018, and now they are on eye level with all the major industry players as a front-runner to be first to introduce scheduled all-electric flights, possibly by 2026.

“We punched above our weight being the launch customer for the Embraer E2 already and again now for electrical flying,” says Andreas Kollbye Aks, Widerøe’s chief strategist and head of its new subsidiary, Widerøe Zero, acting as a think tank for sustainable flying.

“It was a challenge to do that with the E2, and this is even more of a challenge, we shouldn’t underestimate what it takes to be first with new technologies in the market.”

Norway has unique geography and thus is perceived as the ideal breeding ground for the world premiere of electric flying. From the North Cape, the northernmost point of Europe high above the Arctic circle, to the far southwest the distance is almost 1,800 km. The coastline spreads out over 2,650 km, and if you go around all the endless fjords and bays, it even adds up to about 21,000 km.

Roughly 80 per cent of the 5.5 million Norwegians live in cities, mostly in the south, whereas elsewhere, small settlements are spread out everywhere up to remote Arctic areas.

“You can see how important aviation is to Norway,” says scientist Jonas Kristiansen Nøland from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). “Therefore electric aviation is a very good opportunity for Norway, the airline network is very well suited for short-haul routes based on small planes with few passengers, battery-powered aircraft can do the job.”

Also, Norway’s nature provides lots of hydro-and wind power, decisive sources to produce all-important green energy that only enables sustainable aviation. Of course, electrical flying in the early days will have its limitations, especially in battery capacity and thus range as well as aircraft size. But even that doesn’t pose a significant obstacle in Norway, compared to other markets. There is even a possible first route, where all players try to make it happen: Bergen to Stavanger, the two most important western Norwegian cities, located only 160 km apart. But as there are deep fjords in between them, no other mode of transport is as appealing as aviation to connect the cities, currently, there is an annual air traffic volume of 550,000 passengers on this route.

Avinor, Norway’s state-run airport operator and ATC provider, has already put out the country’s bold goal in 2020: “To make Norway a world leader in electric aviation and the first country where electric aircraft account for a significant share of the market, and to electrify all domestic Norwegian flights by 2040.”

Widerøe is the airline partner in this quest, teaming up with important suppliers: “Since 2019 we have had a very important strategic partnership with Rolls-Royce. It has extended into another interesting cooperation we do with Rolls-Royce and Tecnam in Italy, manufacturer of nine-seat commuter aircraft, and then cooperation with Embraer on larger aircraft projects,” explains Andreas Kollbye Aks.

“We also work with Eve as well, an eVTOL backed by Embraer. We look at three different levels – a small regional electrical aircraft to be put in service soon, then a larger regional electric or hybrid aircraft to replace the Dash-8s around 2030, and the area of air taxis.”

The first step will be an electrified version of the commuter airliner Tecnam P2012 Traveller, a nine-seat piston-engine aircraft in service since 2019, flying for Cape Air in the US for example. It will be modified into the Tecnam P-Volt, for which Widerøe has signed a letter of intent to purchase an unknown number. The aircraft is supposed to have 85 nautical miles (157 km) in range, including a 30-minute energy reserve, making it roughly suitable for the envisaged Bergen-to-Stavanger route. Rolls-Royce has developed the electric propulsion system with an output of about 500 kilowatts. According to Aks, the engine manufacturer has a 2.5-megawatt engine up and running in its test labs, producing the equivalent of 3,800hp in thrust, enough to power a 50-seater.

The beginnings of electrical flight will be humble. “2026 is a challenging date, but I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t be able to meet that target,” says Andreas Kollbye Aks.” The Tecnam P-Volt is an important starting point, as we believe it’s impossible to enter a larger zero-emission aircraft into service by 2030 or 2035 if you have no previous experience.” And it’s not only technical aspects that need pioneering here: “On our side as an airline we also need to have our processes and procedures certified for the operations of these aircraft. That’s the code we need to crack,” finds Aks. Unlike elsewhere, in Norway stakeholders on every level seem to push in the same direction.

If Norway can’t make this important first step happen, it seems, no one can.

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