”We are committed to being one of the first to offer commercial routes with eVTOLs and battery-electric and hydrogen-electric aircraft”

On how the future for eVTOLs and electric air taxis is almost here
September 27, 2021

Littorin describes himself as an economist with an entrepreneurial spirit. He’s worked in the aviation sector for almost twenty years, mainly in the fields of sustainability and strategy. He’s now leading a very special project in Skellefteå in the northern part of Sweden (where Northvolt is currently constructing Europe’s greenest battery plant). Co-funded by the Swedish Energy Agency, it also involves Skellefteå Airport, Skellefteå Kraft, Northvolt, ACR, Jonair, and Luleå University of Technology. The goal? Making eVTOLs (Electric vertical takeoff and landing) a reality, to contribute to sustainable accessibility in sparsely populated areas where the basis for other public transport is limited, the infrastructure on the ground is expensive to maintain, or where travel times are long in relation to the distance.

First of all, can you give a brief background on eVTOLs? What is it?

— At the moment, the development of eVTOLs is focused on smaller vehicles with approximately 2-8 passengers that can start and land vertically and thereby not in the need of a runway. They are powered by small electric engines that make them silent and can be used either with a pilot or autonomous as a drone for transportation of people or goods. A number of eVTOLs are already flying for test purposes and by 2024, the first vehicles will probably be certified for commercial use.

You recently unveiled receiving formal permission for test flights at the 13-kilometer route between Skellefteå’s airport and Northvolt’s coming factory. What does it mean?

— It means that a broad consortium will work for approximately one and a half years to do all the preparations that are needed to be able to start test flights with eVTOLs between the airport and Northvolt Ett. The work involves the creation of separate air routes that will be safe and secure and work together with another kind of air traffic. It also involves the preparation, location, and design of take-off and landing sites at the airport and at Northvolt and the analysis of the business case regarding the power supply, infrastructure, and so forth. It also has a work package that will explore how increased use of electricity and high power charging will affect or interfere with other infrastructure. All this is to make a commercial introduction of eVTOLs as safe, smooth, and quick as possible. When the test route is set up, we will be able to welcome developers of eVTOL vehicles to test and develop in real conditions.

In Skellefteå, it’s not only you and Northvolt, but a bunch of huge and groundbreaking industrial projects, in the making. How would you describe the situation and atmosphere there now?

— It is definitely an incredible development that we see in the Skellefteå region at the moment. There are so many things that come together in the same place at the same time, including large industrial projects, the development of sustainable power supply, the building of new housing and infrastructure, and increased connectivity. This means that people and competences from all over the world connect in Skellefteå at the moment with all that it brings in the field of knowledge, investments, entrepreneurship, and an overall forward-looking spirit.  

Back to your project, is it restricted to flights between Northvolt and the airport? Or will it develop and expand onwards?

— The aim is to create a model that can then be duplicated to a number of interesting routes within the entire Nordic region. The route between the airport and Northvolt is a potential transfer route that can save time and money and also serve as a groundbreaking way to transfer to and from an airport in a fossil-free way. However, we can already see a number of interesting route opportunities to and from other sites in the region.    

When do you aim to launch commercial routes?

— Our goal is definitely to do it as soon as there are certified vehicles available — we hope that it’ll be within approximately three years from now.

What’s the next step?

— We are committed to be one of the first regions in Europe to offer commercial routes with electric airborne vehicles. This will involve both eVTOLs, battery-electric aircraft, and hydrogen-electric aircraft. Therefore, we made the investment in Sweden’s most powerful energy supply dedicated to electric aviation. We now have 1MW ready at airside. This will be used already this autumn when Green Flight Academy will establish its flight school with a number of electric aircraft. This is unique and super interesting! We also have some interesting ventures into hydrogen and the 1MW power supply and infrastructure open up a number of interesting R&D possibilities. We also co-operate with other regions so that we can open up commercial traffic to and from Finland, to inland Sweden, and possibly over to Norway as soon as possible. We don’t necessarily have to do anything on a large scale — instead, we think that the value of doing things for real and get small vehicles up in the air as soon as possible will mean that we learn a lot, increase the connectivity, and help to push the boundaries forward, Littorin concludes.

Photography: Skellefteå Airport