How a regional airline becomes a leader in sustainable travel

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A small regional carrier is making a name for itself as a leader in sustainability.

Earlier this month, based in Stockholm Braathens
was named to the Fortune Change the World list of more than 50 companies that have had a positive social or environmental impact through activities that are part of their core business strategy.

In June, the Swedish airline staged what it claims to be the first regional flight using 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) in both engines. The aim of the roughly hour-long flight from the southern Swedish city of Malmö to Stockholm was to “show that it is possible,” says Maria Fiskerud, sustainability director at Braathens.

And there’s no time to lose: “We aim to reach net zero by 2030,” she adds, “and to get there, we need to start now.”

The Swedish carrier is moving away from fossil fuels largely thanks to mandates and incentives from the Swedish state; plus Braathens owner Per G. Braathen is passionate about sustainability, according to Fiskerud.

The government’s Fossil Free Sweden initiative has set targets including making domestic flights fossil-free by 2030. State-owned airport operator Swedavia, which runs 10 airports in the country, has started charging airline operators in June depending on the airline’s CO2 emission levels. .

The government is also asking companies in various sectors to reduce their emissions while traveling, says Fiskerud. These companies in turn ask the carrier “to find ways to help them achieve their goals”. The next step is for the airline to obtain 100% SAF certification, which they can do by certifying either the fuel or the engine.

“Even though it’s demanding and difficult, I think it could be good to live in a corner of the world where sustainability is a priority,” she says.

FAS Supplement

A challenge with moving away from fossil fuels is that SAF production is lacking; only 100,000 tons of SAF are currently available worldwide, says Fiskerud. But, she adds, more and more production sites are expected to open in the coming years.

“People and businesses come to us now because they’ve read about us,” says Fiskerud. “Today it’s really, really difficult to get your hands on SAF because there are so many airlines around the world that want it.”

SAFs can cost four to five times more than fossil fuels, says Fiskerud. Braathens passes this cost on to willing passengers with an optional surcharge of 150 Swedish Krona (US$13.50) for the average one-hour flight using 50% SAF.

Accepting the supplement does not mean that the passenger is guaranteed to travel on an SAF flight. The airline saves the money from the SAF tickets in a special account, which it uses to buy SAF several times a year.

“It saves both money and CO2 since the fuel is delivered by truck, and we count all the emissions in the value chain for our SAF delivery,” says Fiskerud.

Braathens partnered with Amadeus in May to introduce SAF as an option to passengers across all of its sales channels. After selecting the dates and destination, the customer selects whether they want the SAF ticket or a regular ticket with fossil fuel.

“It’s our way of using nudging to make it a little easier for our customers to make the right choice,” says Fiskerud. Braathens also started to advertise SAF flights.

“We’re seeing more and more people choosing FAS,” she says. “We’ve actually been able to replace 1.7% of our fuel with SAF since we started.

“And that might not sound like that. But it’s probably the most anyone’s done in the world because there’s not a lot of fuel around.

The airline is not ready to make the surcharge automatic.

“Many of our passengers, as well as search engines for air travel, search or offer only the cheapest options as their first result,” says Fiskerud. “So we need to work more on behavior and search engines first. To be able to make that transition, we also need to sell tickets and survive today. It’s a balance.”

Braathens and one of its customers, whom the airline has not yet named, are starting a service between Sweden and France. The customer has agreed to pay 50% SAF on this route.

Go electric

The Swedish airline has also pledged to buy two electric planes in 2028 from the Swedish electric plane maker. Aerospace Heart.

Even if it’s demanding and difficult, I think it can be good to live in a corner of the world where sustainability is a priority.

Maria Fiskerud – Braathens

Braathens applied for a $3.6 million government grant in partnership with Heart Aerospace and the battery maker Northern Volt develop electric aircraft.

“Flying on electricity requires a totally different business model,” says Fiskerud. “It gives us the opportunity to look for other routes that we cannot fly with an ATR [regional
transport plane] for example.”

In the transition to electric aviation, airlines must ask themselves: “Where do the batteries come from? Where do the minerals in batteries come from? What are the emissions of this? What are the consequences?”

A circular economy requires collaboration across the ecosystem, “and we’re not really used to that.”

“We need to discuss…how we can mitigate the risks and share the benefits,” says Fiskerud.

One challenge, she adds, is the lack of apples-to-apples comparisons between airlines. Industry experts have called on the airline industry to federate around common global measures during a session at the recent ATPCO Elevate 2022 conference.

For companies looking to become more sustainable, Fiskerud recommends following the Science-Based Targets Initiative, which provides benchmarks. The important thing, she says, is to start now.

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