Could electric passenger planes take off in Norway?
* Norway's Avinor reckons short-haul flights electric by 2040
* Says hopes to spur big plane makers to go green
* Half of all cars sold in Norway electric or hybrid
By Alister Doyle
OSLO, March 22 (Reuters) - Norway said on Thursday it wants to buy electric passenger planes in the coming years to help slow climate change, building on its success with big tax breaks that have made it the world leader in electric car sales.
State firm Avinor, which runs 45 airports in Norway, said the commitment to battery-powered aircraft could encourage development of electric and hybrid technologies by companies such as Airbus or Boeing.
"In my mind, there's no doubt that by 2040 Norway will be operating totally electric" on short-haul flights, Dag Falk-Pedersen, head of Avinor, told reporters at an aviation conference in Oslo.
Among airlines, "Airbus told us they need a customer and they need a market - and we can offer them both," he said. "Of course they need a bigger market and more customers. But someone has to start."
Norway, a mountainous country of 5 million people with towns beside remote fjords, would be ideal for electric planes which can accelerate faster than conventional planes and so need shorter runways, he said.
But electric planes so far have big problems of weight, with bulky batteries, and limited ranges. The first electric planes flew across the English Channel in July 2015, including an Airbus E-Fan.
"It could be that we are presenting a tender within a year or two to the market to commercialise electric aircraft," Falk-Pedersen said, adding that such a tender might be for 5 to 15 planes of between 12 and 50 seats.
Norway's Transport Minister Ketil Solvik-Olsen said Oslo would try to repeat its success in promoting electric cars, backed by tax breaks and other perks such as free parking and recharging points.
Last year, more than half of new cars sold in Norway were electric or hybrid, the highest rate in the world. But he admitted "when we talk about battery driven planes there's no doubt that most people are a bit sceptical".
Norway's centre-right government, in a political platform worked out in January, told Avinor to work to shift to electric planes in commercial transport and promote use of biofuels.
Norway, western Europe's biggest oil and gas producer, has struggled to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions which were three percent above 1990 levels in 2016.
In November, Airbus, Rolls-Royce, and Siemens teamed up to develop a hybrid electric engine.
And in October, a Seattle-area start-up, backed by the venture capital arms of Boeing and JetBlue Airways Corp also announced plans to bring a hybrid-electric aircraft, with up to 12 passengers, to market by 2022.
(Reporting by Alister Doyle Editing by Alison Williams)
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