More Norwegians are flying back to forth to their jobs than ever before. Low fares and high income are behind a steep rise in commuting on airlines instead of the local train, tram or bus, much to the despair of those worried about climate change.
Avinor, the state-owned agency in charge of Norway’s airports, reports that the number of airline commutes soared from 900,000 in 2003 to 2.4 million in 2013. That represents a growth rate of 160 percent over the 10-year period.
“It means that around 5,000 people are flying round-tip between their homes and their jobs every single weekday in Norway,” Jon Inge Lian of Avinor told newspaper Aftenposten. “That’s a very high number, and it represents a major increase over just a few years.”
Heavy oil and gas sector commuting
People working in the oil and gas sector, Norway’s largest industry, make up fully 70 percent of those commuting, according to Avinor. “There’s a lot of commuting done to places with high oil industry activity, and here we see that flights to and from Stavanger and Bergen dominate,” Lian said.
He added, though, that “this involves all kinds of commuting. Some fly every day, others every week, while still others working in the oil business maybe fly every other week,” Lian said.
Commuters questioned for Avinor’s recent report entitled Luftfartens samfunnsnytte (literally, Aviation’s social benefits) said they mostly chose to commute by air because they didn’t want to move away from family and friends. Some companies also demand a high degree of mobility among their employees.
Most of those flying back and forth to work live in outlying areas and work in Norway’s larger cities, according to Avinor’s report. Around half of the airline commuters surveyed traveled from home to work in Stavanger, Bergen, Oslo, Trondheim, Kristiansand and Tromsø. Many commute by air during special project work in which they’re involved. “Good airline service in terms of routes, flight service and fares makes this kind of commuting possible,” Lian noted.
Knut Morten Johansen, information chief for Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) said the airline has seen a marked increase in sales of årskort (annual travel passes), which give their holders the right to unlimited travel within specific geographic areas. “Flying has become a more efficient means of travel than it was before,” Johansen said, because the regularity and frequence of flights has taken off as well.
Environmental advocates see little if any “social benefit” in airline commuting. Lars Haltbrekken, leader of the Norwegian chapter of Friends of the Earth (Naturvernforbund), is astonished and troubled by its growth in Norway.
“Flying to work every single day is the most environmentally damaging means of commuting,” Haltbrekken told Aftenposten. “What surprises me the most is Avinor’s offensive approach to this. All these new routes are the surest means of getting our carbon emissions to soar.” Haltbrekken is calling on politicians to curtail airport expansion. Many of them commute by airlines themselves, flying from their home districts to the Parliament or government offices in Oslo.