Gozo airport: electrification to be ‘encouraged’ not imposed

Tender could include provision for companies with intention to use electric aircraft but Gozo authority also recommending installation of a fuel depot for everyday use and not just for emergencies

The Gozo Regional Development Authority (GRDA) is insisting that electrification at a proposed Gozo 445m airfield should be “encouraged” rather than made mandatory, while calling for the installation of a fuel depot.

Studies in a regional impact assessment for the Xewkija runway showed that carbon emissions from fuel-powered airplanes operating between Malta Airport and the new airstrip were significantly higher than those emitted by cars travelling the same distance.

To counter the expected increase in emissions, the GRDA is recommending that the inter-island air service provider should “be encouraged to adopt an all-electric aircraft fleet”.

This emerges from the “outcome statement” for the public consultation on the regional impact assessment.

But the option of waiting for the availability of completely electrified plane fleets is not even considered in the report. The two measures recommended in the final document include “incentivising the operator to shift towards electric aircraft” or stipulating in the tender document that “only those operators who submit their intention to operate with electric aircraft would be allowed to operate from the proposed airfield.”

The GRDA is also recommending that residents and tourists who make use of the air-link transport service should be “encouraged to make use of the public transport to mitigate impact on air quality, as well as impacts on traffic flow, road accessibility, and vehicle parking requirements.”

This measure shall be accompanied by an enhanced public transport service that meets the expected demand and be in sync with scheduled inter-island arrivals and departures, as part of a wider sustainable mobility plan for the island of Gozo.

And following the “extensive feedback received from several players involved in the aviation industry”, the GRDA recommends that a fuel depot station is also included in the project to cater for “day-to-day needs” instead of being restricted only for emergency use as originally proposed. Aprons 1 and 4, which are the only two parts which shall be entirely or partially hard-surfaced, shall be the only two sites considered for the installation of a fixed or mobile fuel depot station at the Gozo Rural Airfield.

The impact assessment includes a calculation comparing carbon emissions from aircraft, to the amount that would be saved from the roads. The fuel emissions from aviation and the saved carbon emissions from road transport were compared as part of the economic analysis.

Considering a total of 242,303 litres of fuel consumption per year emanating from the air-link between Malta and Gozo, and a carbon-equivalent content of 3.1kg per litre of fuel, with €35 per tonne of carbon dioxide, the external cost of emissions will be €26,290 per annum.

The equivalent of carbon emissions from car trips from Malta International Airport to Cirkewwa and from Mgarr Harbour to the Gozo Heliport is estimated at 104,675 litres of fuel, which is valued at €8,793 per annum.

By comparing the value of saved fuel emissions from the road to the emissions generated by the STOL aircraft providing the air transport service, “it is clear that there would be a resultant net increase in carbon emissions.”

Although the technology for the electrification this sector is evolving at a fast rate, most aircraft in the market are still jet-fuelled. Presently an estimated 200 global companies are currently pursuing electric plane projects, some of which have already made short and successful test flights.

Electric planes, like electric cars, rely on battery-generated electricity for power, rather than standard liquid jet fuel. Yet today’s batteries aren’t nearly as energy-dense as jet fuel, requiring bulk and weight that pose significant aerodynamic challenges. But the technology is more ideal for short take-off and landing (STOL) planes like the 9 to 11 passenger-seat planes required for the Gozo airstrip.