If you were looking to fly on some classic airplanes, Sweden probably wouldn’t be the first place that comes to mind. And yet this Nordic nation (which as some of you will know is the headquarters of Flightradar24) has long been an interesting place for fans of aviation thanks to its eclectic domestic fleet – one that still offers an unusual mix of aircraft.
Up until earlier this year Sweden was one of the last places in Europe where you could fly on an Avro RJ. Sadly the Avros had their retirement expedited due to the coronavirus, but since then we’ve actually seen other classic planes – mostly turboprops – gain market share. As a result Sweden is now one of the best places in the world to go if you want to fly on a Fokker 50 or a Saab 340.
With that in mind, I took a look at the Flightradar24 data from a given date last summer and compared it to one this summer, in order to get a better sense of the shifting fleet serving Sweden’s domestic network.
A little-known airline gains market share
If we compare flights from a given day in 2019 and in 2020 – in this case July 30, 2019 versus July 28, 2020, both Tuesdays – we can see in the chart below that Amapola, an airline that very few people had ever heard of, has gained some fairly significant market share. They fly classic Fokker 50s. That’s largely down to the fact that BRA, which previously ran over a third of domestic flights using ATR 72 and Avro RJ aircraft, completely shut down in April (they may or may not come back in the autumn – discussions are ongoing.) Amapola signed a deal to take over existing BRA tickets, and they won a tender to take over some routes to the north and to Gotland, where the government deemed it essential to maintain service.
SAS also gained market share. They’re keeping the average age of planes on Swedish domestic flights down by running exclusively brand new A320NEOs around the country, but there are plenty of older and interesting planes running alongside.
The charts below show the fleet mix on domestic flights comparing the same two days – 2019 on the left and 2020 on the right, as before. The Fokker 50 and Saab 340 together made up 39% of the day’s traffic in late July this year – a beautiful thing for fans of these older aircraft which are increasingly rare around the world. The Saab 340s belong to Air Leap, another lesser-known little airline flying short hops around Sweden.
Domestic flights on the decline
Even before the coronavirus, domestic flights in Sweden were falling out of favor – with many choosing to take trains even if it meant longer overall travel times. That has largely been due to a growing environmental concern around flying, which even led to the homegrown term flygskam, or “flight shame”, being exported around the world. These factors combined have brought the number of flights significantly down. On July 30, 2019 there were 211 domestic commercial flights, and on July 28, 2020 there were just 70.
But that number is also a testament to the importance of air travel to Sweden, which has quite a bit of surface area and few fast trains. The northern county of Norrbotten alone encompasses about the same surface area as Austria. Clearly just like in many countries it’s a tough market to make money on domestic flights, and especially now – but having older, smaller props that are all paid for helps. Here’s hoping Sweden will be a sanctuary for classic propeller planes for some time to come.