As hundreds of thousands of people flew home for the holidays through Norwegian airports this week, aviation officials were announcing prospects for even more airline traffic in the years ahead. Climate and environmental advocates, however, are vowing turbulence in the hopes of grounding at least some of the traffic growth plans.
Flights at Norway’s newly expanded gateway airport, OSL Gardermoen, were mostly arriving and taking off on time Friday, with mid-morning delays of around 10 minutes. More that 200,000 travelers were traveling through OSL late this week, around 85,000 on Thursday alone. Airport officials were even allowing any travelers wearing a nisselue (red stocking cap) to use a gate reserved for families with small children, to speed airline passengers through security.
Just days before the holiday traffic peaked, top officials at Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) and Avinor, the state-owned agency that runs Norwegian airports, announced ambitious new growth plans. “Norway is a world leader in terms of air travel per capita, and we of course want to take part in that growth,” said Rickard Gustafson, SAS’ chief executive who made the trip to Oslo to announce a new “cooperation agreement” with Avinor boss Dag Falk-Pedersen.
Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported that the agreement is due to run at least until 2022 and calls for as many as 3 million more passengers flying in and out of Norway per year. SAS plans to boost capacity on existing routes and use OSL as a hub on routes between Norway and other international markets, also for long-haul flights. SAS also aims to introduce new routes to serve the leisure market and increase its number of direct routes abroad from Stavanger, Bergen and Trondheim.
Newspaper Aftenposten noted that no specific destinations for new overseas flights were revealed, but it reported that SAS is considering new direct routes from Norway to the US (including Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Minneapolis) and to Toronto, Canada. There’s also reportedly talk of new SAS routes to China and South Korea.
“There’s a trend that passengers expect to be able to fly directly to several destinations,” Gustafson told DN. He predicted most SAS flights will continue to run in and out of Oslo, “but there is enough demand for growth all over the country.” Avinor officials, meanwhile, are making efforts to restrain the historically high landing fees at Norwegian airports that helped make Copenhagen and Stockholm the main airline hubs in Scandinavia, instead of Oslo.
Avinor’s chief executive, who has a long-stated goal of continuing to expand traffic, confirmed that several other airlines also want to launch new long-haul routes next year. DN noted that Hainan Airlines of China, for example, has applied for rights to fly from Oslo to both Beijing and Shenzhen. “Oslo, and all of Norway, is an attractive tourist destination (the numbers of Chinese visitors have skyrocketed in recent years) and we see increased interest from the Far East,” Falk-Petersen said.
‘Crashing’ with climate and environmental goals
Environmental organizations are furious about the planned growth in airline traffic, and deeply worried about how increasing numbers of Norwegians now often fly to New York for a long weekend. Climate advocates have fought Avinor’s plans to build a third runway at OSL and they aren’t at all happy about the growth plans not just for SAS but also for Norwegian Air and other carriers.
“What’s most disturbing is that state-owned Avinor has a goal of increasing traffic by 4 percent every year,” Holger Schlaupitz of Naturvernforbundet (Friends of the Earth) told Aftenposten. While Norwegian politicians and the state highway department (Statens vegvesen) are making often unpopular moves to reduce vehicular traffic, to cut Norway’s high carbon emissions, he noted, “Avinor is being allowed to work actively to increase airline traffic and thereby carbon emissions as well.”
Schlaupitz claimed that “it’s time for the state to change Avinor’s mandate. Otherwise airline traffic growth will offset the environmental effects of more fuel-efficient aircraft and other measures that can contribute to environmental improvements within aviation.”
Many others are also sounding alarms, with professor and researcher Carlo Aall claiming that much of today’s airline traffic should be replaced by maritime, train and bus routes. Newspaper Dagsavisen quoted Aall, who leads research group Vestlandsforsking, recently as saying that airline traffic is increasing so much and so rapidly in Norway that the country’s climate goals will not be reached.
“It’s simply not possible in the time frame we have to manage a goal of 1.5- to 2 degrees temperature increase,” Aall told Dagsavisen. He warns against exactly the sort of plan announced by SAS and Avinor, and urges much higher airport and airline fees, taxes and other restrictions to curtail growth.
Environmental advocacy organization Framtiden i våre hender (The Future in Our Hands, FIVH) agrees. “Making it possible to allow more airline traffic crashes completely with the goals to reduce carbon emissions,” FIVH leader Anja Bakken Riise told Dagsavisen. “Even if Avinor makes improvements in its own operations, they’re continuing to put growth goals ahead of consideration for the environment.”
More debate and conflict thus lies ahead. In the meantime, OSL will already welcome three new airlines this spring, with Polish Airlines LOT and EasyJet of the UK returning and Ukraine International Airlines making its debut, with new routes to Warsaw, Berlin and Kiev respectively. SAS, which cooperates with LOT through Star Alliance, has also announced new routes from Oslo to Thessaloniki in Greece, Aarhus in Denmark, Prague and Geneva, plus more frequency to Athens.