Nordic airline Widerøe launches unit for emissions-free flying

The company aims to have its first zero-emission plane in the air by 2026.

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The E2-190 jet is seen during a ceremony as Embraer delivers first jet to Norway’s Widerøe at the company’s headquarters in Sao Jose dos Campos, Brazil April 4, 2018. (Roosevelt Cassio / Reuters File Photo)

OSLO — Widerøe, the Nordics’ largest regional airline, is setting up a subsidiary to help it develop an emissions-free airline business, its chief executive told Reuters.

Privately-owned Widerøe serves short-haul routes in a sparsely populated region with few train lines and challenging geography. It has 40 Bombardier Dash 8 propeller planes and 3 Embraer E190-E2 jets.

Widerøe plans to have its first zero-emissions plane flying in 2026 and aims to replace its 26 Dash 8-100 and -200, which will be obsolete between 2030 and 2035, with zero-emissions planes, either electric or using hydrogen as fuel.

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Called Widerøe Zero and launching on Friday, the new company would help Widerøe achieve its aim of a zero-, or near-zero, emissions fleet, Chief Executive Stein Nilsen said in an interview.

“To be free to think outside the box we decided to establish a new company with the main target of finding this path to find a more sustainable (business),” he said.

Widerøe Zero would also try to find new market opportunities, he added, when the airline industry, which accounts for 2.5 percent of global CO2 emissions in 2018, according to Our World in Data, is under pressure to be more sustainable.

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New technologies are disrupting the industry too, Nilsen said, citing the emergence of electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft (eVTOL) as an example of the rapid change that Widerøe wants to take advantage of.

“As a short-haul airline, this is very interesting for us,” said Nilsen. “We need to be prepared for something more disruptive in the market place for our niche.”

The planned switch coincides with upheaval in the Nordic airlines industry, with major carriers Norwegian Air and SAS restructuring operations and newcomers such as Flyr and Play launching following the disruption caused by the pandemic.