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A third parallell runway

News   •   Jan 15, 2020 10:00 CET

Stockholm Arlanda Airport. Photo: Swedavia

Air transport creates essential conditions for Sweden’s competitiveness, growth and prosperity. It links the country together and links Sweden to the rest of the world. As the owner of Sweden’s national basic infrastructure of airports – with Stockholm Arlanda as the hub – Swedavia is responsible for ensuring that the airports are properly designed with the right capacity for future needs but also for driving the work to bring about fossil-free travel in Sweden by 2045. In order for Arlanda to handle future travel volumes as well as the transition to fossil-free flights, a third parallel runway needs to be in place by around 2035. But preparing for and building a runway takes a long time and requires major investments. The preparatory work has begun, and a national pooling of resources is now required for the necessary transformation of air transport and the equally necessary long-term development of Arlanda as a critical component of Sweden’s transport infrastructure.

Good access both within Sweden and to the rest of the world is an essential condition for Sweden’s growth, prosperity and sustainability. It is therefore crucial for all of Sweden’s development that Stockholm Arlanda is given conditions to develop into an attractive, well-functioning airport. Swedavia works to ensure that Arlanda will be the leading airport in the Nordic region. That means Arlanda will be a safe, smooth airport with rapid flows and direct routes to attractive destinations. It will also be a pioneer and role model in sustainability and the travel of the future.

There has long been discussion about how many runways Stockholm Arlanda needs. Today there are three runways – two parallel ones that determine the airport’s capacity and a third, crossing runway that does not contribute to capacity but creates some redundancy and reduces noise load. After many years of growth, passenger volume has fallen over the past year. However, Swedavia’s long-term forecasts, which are based on the assumption that the transition to fossil-free air transport will be carried out, indicate an increase from 26 million passengers a year today to 40 million in 2040. In that case, a third parallel runway must be completed by around 2035. Otherwise, there will be a lack of capacity that will affect the competitiveness and prosperity of all Sweden. But the question of a third parallel runway is complex. It may therefore be appropriate here to highlight a number of factors concerning runway capacity in general and Arlanda’s conditions in particular.

It is sometimes emphasised in the debate that other airports handle more passengers than Stockholm Arlanda with the same number of parallel runways. This can be interpreted as meaning that what is needed is more efficient traffic at Arlanda, rather than an additional runway. Such an analysis ignores the fact that every airport has unique conditions in terms of function, geography, local weather conditions, air transport market and traffic patterns, and these affect the need for runway capacity. In Arlanda’s case, there are a number of factors that make it necessary to have higher runway capacity than at some other airports in Europe. One such factor is that the airport’s traffic pattern has a clear peak structure, which means that most departures and arrivals are concentrated within a few hours during the morning and evening. The traffic pattern is determined by what times of the day most people need to fly. Some have to make it in time to meetings in other parts of Sweden or elsewhere in Europe, while others need to catch connecting flights from other airports elsewhere in the world. There is thus limited potential to redirect traffic to other times of the day. Another factor that determines the need for a third parallel runway is that Arlanda needs to handle both fast jet planes and slow propeller aircraft. This mix of fast and slow aircraft makes the airport less efficient than an airport served by a more uniform fleet of aircraft. At many of the largest international airports, traffic is spread evenly over the traffic day and consists almost solely of jet planes, since smaller, slower aircraft serving domestic routes often operate at nearby airports.

The trend towards electric-powered aircraft will also lead to a more varied fleet of aircraft. The first commercial electric aircraft will be much smaller than the aircraft today that run on fossil fuel and will primarily be used for shorter routes. Electric aircraft flying shorter distances will coexist with jet planes that run on biofuel and fly longer distances. It is absolutely essential to develop solutions and infrastructure that are adapted to the fossil-free aviation of the future in order to make the transition to sustainable air transport. Runway capacity is important in this context.

There is great uncertainty as to exactly when another runway needs to be completed. This depends on the passenger volume trend, which in turn depends on how the transition to fossil-free air transport progresses based on the industry’s road map. What we know for certain is that, given the traffic situation today, it would be impossible to handle the traffic from Bromma Stockholm Airport using Stockholm Arlanda’ s existing runways without this having a negative impact on access.

Swedavia works to make Stockholm Arlanda a modern airport that contributes to growth and prosperity for all of Sweden. At the same time, we carry out world-leading work to reduce emissions from the airport. It is high time that we prioritise the investments that both increase Arlanda’s capacity and prepare the airport for the fossil-free air transport of tomorrow. Swedavia’s best estimate at present is that a third parallel runway needs to be in place by around 2035. For this to be possible, planning and preparations for the long and vital process for a new environmental permit have begun. A national pooling of resources for the necessary transition to fossil-free air transport by 2045 and for the necessary long-term development of Sweden’s critical infrastructure is both desirable and needed. We are thus calling for conditions that have solid political backing for the continued work to make Arlanda the leading airport in the Nordic region. In this context, explicit, broad political support for a third parallel runway would be particularly welcome.

Jonas Abrahamsson
Swedavia’s President and CEO