Sweden to hit flights with ‘world’s first’ emissions-based charges

Sweden plans to become the first country in the world to impose tapered emissions charges on flights leaving and departing from its airports, the government has said.

Sweden to hit flights with 'world's first' emissions-based charges
Passengers waiting at Gothenberg's Landvetter airport. Photo: Adam Ihse/ TT

Airlines would potentially pay a lower charge if their planes are more efficient, use biofuels or are flying a shorter distance.

“As the first country in the world, we are now bringing in climate-related levies on take-offs and landings so that aviation can truly be led by the companies which have the least impact on the climate,” said Sweden’s climate minister Per Bolund, who is one of the two leaders of Sweden’s Green Party, told the Dagens Nyheter newspaper. 

“This is going to have a big impact on reducing aviation’s burden on the climate.”

The new charges, which will come into force on July 1st, are based on the results of an analysis published by the Swedish Transport Agency in June 2020. 

Before the pandemic, flights taken by people in Sweden generated as many tonnes of carbon equivalent as all the country’s cars, with each Swede’s flights in 2017 generating on average 1.1 tonnes of carbon dioxide, five times the global average.

The government has put proposed legal changes to parliament that would make it possible to bring in the levies at Stockholm Arlanda and Gothenburg Landvetter airports.

According to a press release, the proposed levies will be set according to the emissions generated by different flight routes and different plane models, and may also take into account how much biofuel is blended with fuel in the planes tanks.

Tomas Eneroth, Sweden’s infrastructure minister, said that the levies would allow lawmakers to “directly reward those companies which have a fleet which generates fewer emissions, and which, for example, are increasing the proportion of biofuels they use”.

Sweden’s government, he added, wanted to send “a strong signal that we want to take the lead in the transformation of aviation”.

Arlanda and Landvetter together generate roughly half of Sweden’s emissions due to aviation, and they are the only two airports currently covered by the law on aviation charges, which the government is proposing to amend.

Eneroth said that if the levies were a success, they would be extended to other, smaller airports.

Before the pandemic, environmentally conscious consumers in Sweden launched the concept of flygskam or “flight shame”, a trend or movement that saw many take the decision to stop flying and instead taking foreign holidays by train.

Bolund noted that there was a demand from consumers for less polluting flights.

“Even aviation consumers want aviation to be more sustainable, so there is pressure from consumers,” he said. “I think that the airports also understand that there is a demand that aviation needs to be more sustainable.”

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EXPLAINED: What’s behind the queues at Stockholm Arlanda airport?

Travellers are reporting queues over an hour long at Stockholm's Arlanda airport. What's going on and how long is it expected to last?

EXPLAINED: What's behind the queues at Stockholm Arlanda airport?

What’s the situation at Stockholm Arlanda airport? 

On Friday morning, there were queues lasting over an hour at Arlanda’s security controls. By 10am, they had been reduced to below half an hour, according to the live update the airport operator, Swedavia, maintains on its website here

Swedavia first began warning of long queue times on Monday, saying the queues were the result of a resurgence in travel combined with staffing shortages at Avarn, the contractor responsible for managing the security checks. 

“The wait times are due to a staff shortage with our security services contractor – which is caused by ongoing recruitment and absences due to illness,” the airport said on its website

What are travellers saying? 

Twitter is predictably awash with angry comments from travellers, including some well-known commentators. 

The terrorism researcher Magnus Ranstorp resorted to capital letters to bemoan the “CATASTROPHE” at the airport. 

The Financial Times’ Nordic Correspondent also compared the situation at Arlanda unfavourably with the smooth controls at Helsinki Airport

“Never seen anything like it and sounds like might be worse today. In Terminal 5 both queues, SAS and Norwegian, were well over 100 metres long,” he told The Local. “It took me 50 minutes to get through security. Don’t think it’s ever taken more than 10 in the Nordics before.” 

What should you do if you are travelling through Stockholm Arlanda at the moment? 

Swedavia recommends that you arrive “well in advance” when taking a flight. You can contact your airline here to find out when their check-ins and baggage drops open.  

Swedavia also recommends that you do everything possible to speed up the check-in process, such as:

  • checking in from home
  • packing hand baggage to make screening faster
  • checking the need for a face covering in advance
  • checking that you have the right travel documents ready 

If you can’t check in from home, Swedavia recommends seeing if you can check in using an automated machine at the airport.

What is the airport doing to to improve the situation? 

On June 15th, the airport is reopening Terminal 4, which might help somewhat, although the airport warns that as staffing is the major problem, having more space will not fully solve the problem over the summer. 

In a press release issued on Friday, Svedavia’s chief operations officer, Peder Grunditz, said opening a new terminal was “an important measure”. 

“We are now going to have the three biggest terminals back in operation for the first time since the pandemic,” he said. 

The company and Avarn are also making “big recruitment efforts” and taking “operational measures” to improve the queue situation, although the “challenging labour market” made that difficult. 

When will waiting times return to normal? 

In his press release, Grunditz conceded that waiting times were not likely to return to normal during the summer, due to the rapid growth in the number of people taking flights. 

“Even though we expect gradual improvements, the queuing situation is going to continue to be challenging during periods over the summer,” he said.