Backed by world-leading green credentials, the Swedish airport operator remains committed to its stated ambitions around sustainable aviation.
When you’re building ‘Airports of the Future’, a pandemic might slow things down for a while, but the challenge remains. Swedavia says it is developing just such facilities as it implements a strategy for sustainable aviation across its portfolio of 10 airports.
Despite the COVID-19 situation, the company is pushing ahead and for good reason, as Elizabeth Axtelius, director aviation business, explains. “While society, companies and not least employees are facing serious challenges, we know that once the pandemic is over, it will still be important for people to be able to meet and for the industry to continue its transformation to make aviation sustainable,” she remarks.
“Although it is financially challenging for both us and our airline customers, we have not changed our ambition concerning sustainable aviation. We are determined to continue our transformation work and you could say that we have strengthened our focus during the pandemic as the strategic direction recently was supplemented by a climate strategy,” Axtelius adds. “Swedavia is a world leader in operating sustainable airports and our key project is to reach 0% fossil carbon emissions on our own operations at all 10 airports by the end of 2020. In fact, three of the airports have reached their goal already.”
A transition to biofuel is also in the plan and Swedavia aims to have it make up five percent of all fuel delivered at Swedish airports by 2025. “A 5%-mixture in 2025 corresponds to the pace needed to achieve fossil-free domestic air travel by 2030 – an important target towards fossil-free Swedish air transport,” Axtelius states. “To encourage and reward airline customers to use biofuel we implemented the Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) Incentive Programme 2020. With this, for airlines willing to invest in such fuel, Swedavia will support half of the cost premium incurred through the purchase of neat SAF.”
While maintaining the sustainable aviation strategy is important, getting back to actual flying is crucial, as the director acknowledges. “When the COVID-19 situation has stabilised and demand has rebounded, we naturally want to scale up our operations as quickly as possible and have our fantastic employees and passengers back in a safe and secure manner. We are putting a lot of effort into the health and safety of everyone, making sure our passengers will be able to travel safely to, from and through our airports and that our employees feel safe at work.
“In the first week of June, domestic travel restrictions in Sweden were removed and we’ve already seen a number of domestic routes reintroduced. We assume this will be followed by intra-regional and European services,” Axtelius muses.
Swedes normally travel widely, she adds, noting that many who have been working through the period of the pandemic (Sweden had no total lockdown), long more than ever to being able to travel. “VFR travel – strong in Sweden – is believed to be the segment that will recover early, as we are all eager to meet our loved ones. At the same time though, Swedish industry is export driven. We need to travel to do business and many Swedes live, work and study in other countries.”
Long-haul traffic had the lowest capacity decrease through the pandemic; airlines such as Qatar Airways, Air China and Ethiopian Airlines continued to fly from Stockholm Arlanda. Meanwhile, air freight across all Swedavia airports showed an increase of almost 9% in cargo flights from January to April compared with 2019.
In just about every country there been assistance for both industry and the population from national and local governments and other authorities and Sweden is no different, reports Axtelius. “The Swedish Government has enhanced support in three main areas to alleviate the economic effects of the pandemic – employment issues, financial support and trade and transport,” she explains.
“When it comes to employment issues, the support includes short-time work allowance, new rules regarding illness as well as new employment rules. For the first of these, short-time work allowance means that an employee reduces working hours and wages instead of being laid off, with just a minor cut on the salary. The employer can reduce employees working hours and receive financial support from the government to compensate for a significant part of the costs for retaining the employee. The objective is for affected companies to be able to retain their staff and gear up quickly again when the current situation turns around.” Other initiatives cover sick pay and contract extensions.
“As for financial support, it includes support for loss of revenue, temporary tax relief, access to new loans and discount for rental costs, to companies financially impacted by the coronavirus,” Axtelius elaborates, also pointing out that Swedavia itself is helping others.
“Taking the Swedish government’s aid package for rent relief as its starting point, Swedavia is giving rent reductions of up to 50% to some 100 businesses at our airports, including those at the airports strongly affected by the reduced passenger flow, but which cannot take advantage of the government’s rent relief measures. Our first and foremost priority is to limit the spread of the disease and to protect people’s lives and health. The next priority is Swedavia’s economic health and then supporting our valued customers in the best way to facilitate the comeback at our airports,” Axtelius emphasises.
Within the trade and transport area, government aid includes improved guarantees for both small and large exporting companies that can turn to the Swedish Export Credit Agency (Exportkreditnämnden, EKN). EKN insures the risk of not getting paid and facilitates loans through banks in connection with export transactions.
With sustainability clearly a national characteristic, little wonder that Swedavia continues its push in that attribute at all of its airports.