Insiders Say Airbus Wants To Create An Electric Hybrid To Replace The A320neo

Airbus have reaffirmed their commitment to reducing the carbon footprint of aviation. In a Bloomberg report, the European plane maker has said they want to develop the world’s first hybrid electric airliner, a version of the A320neo.

Could the next generation of A320s be hybrids? Photo: Wikimedia

With so much of the public focus on climate change right now, the aviation sector is under increasing pressure to develop a solution to the problem of CO2. Although air travel gets a bad rap for its impact on the environment, much is already being done to address the issues.

Currently, aviation is responsible for just 2% of all man made CO2 emissions, and 12% of CO2 emissions from transport sources. That’s according to the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG). This is largely because modern jets are in the region of 80% more efficient than those in use in the 1960s.

While some airlines are turning to more sustainable jet fuels to help reduce their impact on the environment, Airbus want to take things a step further. According to Bloomberg, they’re considering developing the world’s first hybrid electric airliner as the successor to the popular A320neo.

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How would a hybrid A320 work?

Developing a hybrid is far more achievable at this point in time than attempting to develop a fully electric aircraft. Airbus have already been working on an electric engine for their planes, with a product known as the E-Fan X.

Airbus E Fan X plans
The E-Fan X. Image: Airbus

The E-Fan X is being developed in conjunction with Rolls Royce and Siemens and is almost ready for testing. Initially, it will be attached to a BAe 146, a small regional jet with four Avco Lycoming ALF 502 turbofan engines. One of these engines would be replaced with the E-Fan X, with the potential to replace a second if initial tests prove positive.

Airbus E Fan X 2
The E-Fan X would replace one of the four engines on the small aircraft. Image: Airbus

The gas jet engines would still be used for takeoff and climb, as well as some of the travel. Descent could be done on electric only. Airbus predict that the E-Fan X will lower fuel burn by double digits, as well as reducing noise particularly on landing. The challenge now for Airbus is to test this technology, then figure out how it could be scaled up to power an A320.

The European manufacturer has been quite outspoken on their interest in hybrid aircraft. Last month, they announced a partnership with SAS to undertake hybrid and electric aircraft infrastructure and requirements research. Within this, Airbus and SAS are looking at things like ground infrastructure, charging and operational challenges to bringing either a hybrid or full electric aircraft to market.

Electric Airbus
Airbus are working with SAS to research the impact of introducing electric aircraft. Photo: Airbus

The ultimate goal, from Airbus’ point of view, is to develop a 100% clean, fully electric aircraft. While that may be a way off yet, the potential for a hybrid within the next 15 years is a much more realistic possibility.

When could we see an electric passenger jet?

We’re already seeing electric aviation products coming to market. Just this week, a Californian start up successfully flew a hybrid aircraft, and I’m hoping to check out Eviation Alice at the Paris Air Show next week. However, in order to evolve this technology into something as big as an A320 won’t be easy.

Eviation Alice
The Eviation Alice is a fully electric aircraft, but only for six passengers. Image: Eviation

Even so, it seems that Airbus are confident that the technology will be ready in time for the A320neo refresh, in around 2035. The E-Fan X could be taking to the skies as early as next year, so the technology is moving along fast. Airbus clearly believe that scaling it up for a larger single aisle plane isn’t beyond their reach. But, there could be challenges in getting carriers to take it up too.

Airlines would certainly be keen on the efficiency improvements but may have to take a hit in terms of range and capacity, at least to start with. If you remember the very first electric cars, they were small and couldn’t go far; the situation is likely to be similar with aircraft, although it’s encouraging to see how fast that all changed.

Heathrow airport has tried to incentivize the production of cleaner aircraft by offering free landing fees for a year to the first hybrid electric plane. Perhaps that position will be taken up by Airbus and the all new hybrid A320?

  1. Sounds like a publicity stunt. With (typically) a 25-minute turnaround, how is an LCC going to have time to recharge the (large) batteries on board? In-air re-charging using a turbine (like ELCAT) will produce drag, and doing this during descent (30 mins) won’t give enough time. Fast charging kills battery life, so that’s off the cards. Might be a viable idea for private planes (only used now and then, with long(er) intervals in between, but seems unviable for commercial aviation…

    1. Exactly. It makes for a good PR piece, and it will keep some of the radical environmentalists off their back. A hybrid car works by recovering energy during braking. The only point during flight when there is any kind of real braking is the decent, and the weight penalty of having an electric fan, battery and all the inverters controllers involved would really hamper it. Energy density is everything in aircraft. Boeing found this out the hard way on the 787. Even using the most advanced electric motors, they didn’t really get any savings from them. The efficiency gains of smaller engines that don’t require bleed air were offset by the added weight of the batteries, generators and electric motors ( vs. Lighter pneumatic motors) Airbus themselves figured this out early on and kept bleed air systems for the A350. I will admit to liking the electric air conditioning on the 787. It makes the cabin very comfortable on the ground. Short of having a nuclear reactor onboard, the technology just doesn’t exist to have the same or similar energy density than Kerosene fueled turbofans. Contrary to what some of the so-called environmentalists say, they are actually very clean burning. We’ll see them around for many years to come, unless some high density battery is developed. We’re just not anywhere close to that yet.

      1. I agree with you both.
        Till there is a battery with the same power capacity in 1 kg as in jet fuel, there is no future in electric airplanes.
        And that kind of battery is far away.

    2. BATTERY tech is evolving quickly. once dry lithium-ion become the norm, charge times will drop. if charge and turnaround drop to 45 min i see it becoming viable.

      1. Even if you could recharge the battery in less time than refueling, it won’t matter until you can increase the energy density. Batteries are extremely heavy compared to fuel for the same amount of energy. Right now the technology is just not there, and it will take a tremendous breakthrough for it to happen. It also can’t be any type of lithium battery because we’re reaching peak lithium. Automakers have had to slow down EV plans because not enough lithium can be mined to produce these new cells.

      2. An electric car requires a 500 kg battery to limp along at 120 km/h for about 300 km…and it doesn’t have to leave the ground. You don’t have to be Einstein to deduce that this principle will never viably extend to powering an aircraft turbine.

        1. Not sure if you’re trying to deliberately mislead Nigel, but the currently available and very popular Tesla Model 3 can travel 514km at 70mph, with a 480kg battery pack. It has a top speed of 155mph.

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