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Santa’s Little Airport in Northern Sweden Has Big Ambitions for Sustainable Travel

  • Airports
  • 6 min read

Currently served by Swedish charter operator Jonair, Pajala Airport in northern Sweden has big growth plans. That includes the future supply of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) and supporting electric aircraft flights.

In the long term, Pajala Airport should also be able to offer green aviation fuel and future electric flights.
Pajala Airport plans to supply sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and even host future electric flights. Source: Pajala Airport

The Future of Pajala Airport: Development and Expansion on the Horizon

Pajala Airport, located in the northeastern part of Norrbotten, Sweden, is witnessing an exciting phase of growth and development. A lot is happening in the area, making this development one of the largest investments Pajala has seen in years.

Pajala’s Dynamic Development: Embracing the Green Transition and Boosting Industrial Growth

Amid global discussions on sustainable development and green transitions, two of Sweden’s northernmost counties – Norrbotten and Västerbotten – are rapidly undergoing an extensive green transformation. This transformation is not only limited to the environmental aspect but also encompasses the rapid development of infrastructure, business, community service, and commercial services. This development aims to address the demands rising due to the latest wave of industrialization.

Challenges and Opportunities Ahead

While the geographical space in the region is vast, the skill pool is limited. Erik Mella, Project Manager at Pajala Airport, underscores the region’s immediate challenges: “The potential skill shortage is looming as a significant challenge for both Pajala and the region. With only about 6,000 residents, we need a higher population to leverage the full potential of the planned industrial investments. The need of the hour is more residents equipped with the necessary skills to help us evolve into a leading entrepreneurial municipality.”

Rapid Development of Pajala Airport

Presently, the development of Pajala Airport signifies a significant investment in the municipality. It’s not just Pajala that is bustling with activity. The entire region resonates with hefty industrial investments that have piqued international interest.

A pivotal move in this development spree is the expansion of the international terminal at Pajala Airport. This marks the beginning of a substantial investment into uplifting the regional infrastructure. Pajala Airport aims to become an essential hub promoting the infrastructural advancement of large portions of Norrbotten.

Mining: The Pillar of Pajala’s Economy

Pajala, historically known for its mining activities, witnessed the re-opening of mining operations in Kaunisvaara just over three years ago. The extraction of iron ore, later shipped from Narvik, is managed by Kaunis Iron, a Swedish company. Today, this mine is one of the largest in the Nordics, employing around 500 people.

Further amplifying Pajala’s prominence in northern Europe’s mining map, Kaunis Iron has secured environmental permits to expand its operations. This will encompass various iron ore deposits in the vicinity.

“The mine operates as a crucial engine powering our societal development,” Mella notes. He adds, “Our region hosts a couple of burgeoning sawmills, which recently merged to form a stronger entity. Every industrial position can potentially spawn two to three jobs in diverse sectors. Our objective at the municipal level is to fortify our services to fully harness the opportunities presented by industrial growth.”

State-of-the-art Terminal

The airport underwent a comprehensive improvement to boost Pajala Airport’s attractiveness among flight operators. The latest feather in its cap is the enlarged international terminal. Spanning 350 square meters, Pajala’s International terminal opened at the end of 2022. This terminal amplification piques the interest of flight operators and demonstrates the strong strategic intent of the municipality and Region Norrbotten to pour further resources into the airport’s enhancement.

Bridging the Gap in Regional Travel

The thrust on the development of Pajala Airport is also aimed at enhancing regional destination accessibility. Erik Mella, sheds light on the situation, saying that many people currently choose neighboring Finnish airports to reach Pajala due to maxed-out capacity. However, the strategic positioning of Pajala Airport makes it a viable choice for all incoming and outgoing travel within the region.

Boosting Tourism in Pajala

Pajala Airport plays an instrumental role in driving the region’s tourism growth. With the distinction of housing Sweden’s second northernmost airport, Pajala aims to nurture its hospitality sector, with the airport at its core. The newly inaugurated terminal substantially boosts the airport’s handling capacity.

Mella highlights the region’s unique offerings: “In Pajala, we can primarily offer experiences based on nature. The last untouched wilderness, for example, is something that can be packaged for tourists who want to experience something unique. From the municipality’s side, we intend to support the development of the hospitality industry in all areas, from accommodation to snowmobile trails, fishing, dog sledding, and other activities found here and associated with the arctic location.”

The Santa Claus Effect

An interesting tidbit is that the airport welcomes numerous large flights filled with around 200 British tourists every winter. Their destination? Santa’s Winter Village.

Emphasizing the importance of local collaboration, Mella shares, “Santa’s Winter Village is an excellent example of how experiences can contribute to local development, with a local entrepreneur behind it all and with great international interest. It is also an investment based on a strong commitment to the locality, an interest in collaboration with other companies, and the municipality. We would like more entrepreneurs to contact us to discuss future development opportunities, just as the founder of Santa’s Winter Village did many years ago. It is one of our many good examples of cooperation that has produced fantastic results.”

Regarding how the airport and the Pajala Kommune might capitalize on this, Erik Mella remarks, “Thanks to the success of Santa’s Winter Village, Pajala Airport has built up competence and experience to handle larger flights. That knowledge will come in handy now that we plan to establish at least one new connection to one of the most important hubs in Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and/or Germany.”

A Northern Revolution, Keeping Green

Erik Mella project manager at the international terminal together with Robert Pettersson airport manager Pajala Airport.
Erik Mella, project manager at the Pajala International Terminal, with Robert Pettersson, airport manager at Pajala Airport. Source: Pajala Airport

Investing in a Greener Future

Extensive industrial investments are underway across Norrbotten and its neighboring Vдsterbotten county. “The epicenter of development is in the north, and this trend will persist for a long while,” observes Mella.

Robert Pettersson, Pajala Airport’s Director, emphasizes the new terminal’s capacity to manage flights carrying over 200 passengers, with a turnaround of merely 60 minutes. “This is of great interest to most air operators and something that we need to guarantee for there to be any interest in establishing new connections from Pajala,” Petterson says.

Furthermore, Pajala Airport isn’t merely focusing on expansion. It also directs sustainability efforts through the Green Airport project, encompassing several of Sweden’s regional airports. In the pipeline is also the provision of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and future electric flights.

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