Opportunities for emission-free flying in the Northern Netherlands

Better access and opportunities for the northern economy through the arrival of electric flying.
Research conducted in recent months by a project team of the PEN EM Foundation and M3 Consultancy, in collaboration with Groningen Airport Eelde and NewEnergyCoalition, shows that there are great opportunities in the field of electric flying for the Northern Netherlands in the near future.

The research, made possible in part by the provinces of Groningen and Drenthe, the municipality of Groningen, NOM, Hive.Mobility and the University of Groningen, was conducted to investigate the added value and opportunities for emission-free flying for the Northern Netherlands and what the impact would be on the economy and the network for Groningen Airport Eelde. The most important finding is that passenger flights with fully electrically powered aircraft – which will be introduced from around 2025 – will become economically viable on many more routes, offering opportunities to connect the region from Groningen Airport Eelde much better and sustainably with important European destinations. This strengthens the economic base for the airport and the region. The move to flying on batteries or hydrogen fits in completely with the transition to sustainable energy systems, in which the Northern Netherlands also plays an important role at European level.

Entry of electric flying from 2026

The research shows that in about 5 years’ time the first electric aircraft with relevance for the (Northern) Netherlands will be launched on the market. Rob Wolleswinkel (PEN EM Foundation): “There are already small electric planes for two people. Thanks to innovations in battery technology and aircraft specially designed for electric propulsion, emission-free passenger flights are also possible.

In time, battery-electric aircraft with approximately 9 to 19 seats will be able to carry out flights of more than 500 km. It is also expected that flying on hydrogen will replace flights with fossil fuels. It is expected that aircraft with 50-70 seats in 10 years’ time and approximately 150 seats in about 15 years’ time will also reach destinations such as Spain, for example, without emissions. For further flights, the sector is using synthetic fuel made from hydrogen and carbon monoxide, among other things.

Better accessibility of the Northern Netherlands due to expected network expansion from GAE

The relevance for the region in the Northern Netherlands is great, as Norbert Zoet of the PEN EM Foundation states: “There is now a potential of more than 3 million international flight movements of passengers from the North of the Netherlands, but at the moment, with the current aircraft, there are few routes with sufficient market demand from/to the region to fill an aircraft economically profitable to more business destinations. This is partly due to competition from the existing route network at other airports in the Netherlands. But because the operational costs of electric flying are considerably lower and in combination with the advantage in time and costs of being able to depart close to home, it becomes possible to offer an economically profitable connection with a small aircraft with only 9 or 19 seats from Groningen Airport Eelde.

The researchers foresee that the growth to a direct network of 10 to 15 international European destinations in, for example, Germany, Scandinavia, England and Belgium from the northern airport will be possible around 2035. It is also conceivable that flying to domestic destinations will be reintroduced. This improved and fully sustainable access leads to considerably shorter travel times and a strengthening of the northern economy.

Meiltje de Groot, director of GAE: “This development offers opportunities to connect the Northern Netherlands in a quieter, sustainable and flexible way with other regions in the Netherlands and beyond by 2030.

Significant environmental gain

Eric-Jan Pelt of M3 Consultancy: “The arrival of electric flying contributes to a reduction of CO2 emissions from aviation, but can also contribute to reducing emissions from road traffic by substitution from car to electric aircraft. Electric flying is also an efficient means of transport in terms of electricity consumption: the consumption per passenger with an airplane is expected to be less than with an electric car with 1 or 2 passengers and comparable to the train. The emissions of (ultra) particulate matter from an electric aircraft will even be considerably lower than those of the electric car and the train.

Furthermore, tests with the first electric aircraft engines show that the noise is so much lower that electric aircraft will hardly be heard outside the airport grounds. This gain is achieved, among other things, because the propellers can rotate at a lower speed and more propellers can be used.

Ilse Mensink, Hive.Mobility program manager: “The Northern Netherlands is committed to an innovative, sustainable mobility system. This research shows that electric flying can become a valuable part of that future system.

‘Hydrogen Valley’ also offers economic opportunities for aviation

In addition to better accessibility and sustainability, the development of electric flying also offers opportunities for the northern business community. With the arrival of new technology in aviation, new players are emerging in the field of (local) production, storage, fueling of hydrogen and aircraft technology. The researchers indicate that the Hydrogen Valley development in the Northern Netherlands and the steps that Groningen Airport Eelde is taking as ‘Hydrogen Valley Airport’ in the field of hydrogen infrastructure make it very attractive to acquire a position in this market from the Northern Netherlands.

IJzebrand Rijzebol, Provincial Executive for Economic Affairs of the Province of Groningen: “The Northern Netherlands plays an important role in the energy transition, making it one of the most important regions for the production of electricity and green hydrogen in Europe. The fact that these new energy carriers will greatly improve economic development and accessibility of the Northern Netherlands is very good news!

Groningen Airport Eelde is one of the initiators of ‘Power Up’, a trial in which 4 regional airports in the Netherlands, with the support of Schiphol Group and NLR, want to test scheduled services with electric aircraft between Dutch airports within 5 years. The results of this research contribute to the preparations for ‘Power Up’.