How a regional airline is becoming a leader in sustainability

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

Earlier this month, Stockholm-based Braathens
was named to Fortune’s
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 held what it claims to be the first regional
flight using 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) in both engines. The aim of the approximately one-hour flight from the southern Swedish city of Malmö to Stockholm was to “show
that it’s possible,” says Maria Fiskerud, chief sustainability officer at
Braathens.

And there’s no time to waste: “We have the goal to reach net zero by 2030,”
she adds, “and to be able do so, we need to start now.”

The Swedish carrier is moving away from fossil fuels thanks in large part
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, began charging airline operators in June based on the airline’s
levels of CO2 emissions.

The government also
places demands on companies in various industries to lower their emissions when
traveling, says Fiskerud. Those companies in turn place demands on the carrier
“to find ways to help them to reach their goals.” The next step is for the airline to get 100% SAF-certified, which it can do by certifying either the fuel or the engine.

“Even if it is demanding and it is difficult, I
think it might be good to live in a corner of the world where sustainability is
top of mind,” she says.

SAF add-on

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

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

SAF can cost four to five times as much as fossil fuel, Fiskerud says. Braathens
passes that cost on to willing passengers with an optional surcharge of 150 Swedish Kroners ($13.50 US) for the
average one-hour flight using 50% SAF.

Agreeing to the surcharge
doesn’t mean the passenger is guaranteed to fly on an SAF flight. The airline saves the money from SAF tickets in a special account, which it uses to buy SAF a
couple of times a year.

“That saves both money and CO2 since
the fuel is delivered by a truck, and we are counting all emissions from the
value chain for our SAF delivery,” Fiskerud says.

Braathens partnered with Amadeus in May to
present SAF as an option to passengers on all its sales channels. After
selecting dates and destination, the customer selects if they want the SAF ticket or an ordinary ticket with fossil fuel.

“This is our way to
use nudging to make it a little bit easier for our customers to make the right
choice,” says Fiskerud. Braathens has also started doing some
advertising around the SAF flights.

“We can see that more
and more people are choosing the SAF,” she says. “We have actually been able to
change 1.7% of our fuel to SAF since we started.

“And it might not
sound that much. But it’s probably the most that anyone has
done in the world because there’s not that much fuel around.”

The airline isn’t ready to make the surcharge automatic.

“A lot of our passengers and also search engines for air travel only search for or deliver the cheapest options as top result,” says Fiskerud. “So, we need to work more with both behavior and search engines first. To be able to do this transition we also need to sell tickets and survive today. It is a balance.”

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

Going electric

The Swedish airline has also committed to purchasing two electric aircraft in 2028 from
Swedish electric airplane maker Heart Aerospace.

Quote

Even if it is demanding and it is difficult, I think it might be good to live in a corner of the world where sustainability is top of mind.

Maria Fiskerud – Braathens

Braathens has applied for
a $3.6 million government grant in partnership with Heart Aerospace and battery
manufacturer North
Volt
to develop electric
airplanes.

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

In the move to
electric aviation, airlines need to consider: “Where are the batteries from? Where
are the minerals in the batteries from? What are the emissions from that? What are
the consequences?”

A circular economy requires
collaboration in the whole ecosystem, “and we are not really used to that.”

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

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

For companies
seeking 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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