Will Electric Passenger Planes Ever Go Mainstream?

With EasyJet announcing plans to operate a fleet of electric aircraft by 2020, we have to ask the question “Will Electric Passenger Planes Ever Go Mainstream?”. It seems to be a question that at the moment is relatively based on opinion. The reason for this is that the new technology is relatively unknown, and we have no clue what we will be capable of in 10 or 20 years time. It does, however, seem that if the trend of technological advancements continues at its current pace, this could be a possibility.

electric plane
An artists impression of what a future electric aircraft could look like. Photo: Airbus

Demand

EasyJet isn’t the only company interested in operating cleaner electric aircraft. In October, Heathrow offered a prize of free landing fees for a year to the first electric hybrid aircraft. In fact, in order to achieve this goal, major aircraft manufacturers are already working on producing these aircraft. While they likely won’t be fully electric, they will be much cleaner than is currently available. However, in a day and age when people are increasingly more aware of the environmental impact of their travels, such an aircraft could be a boon to the airlines. That is of course not to mention that any advancement that cuts emissions is a positive step in the right direction.

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What an electric EasyJet aircraft of the future could look like.

Current Technologies

There are currently fully electric aircraft, however, these have a relatively small payload and range. An example would be the Airbus E-Fan. While the E-Fan project was cancelled, the aircraft could carry to passengers using electric turbine engines. Airbus has switched to developing electric hybrid aircraft, a project dubbed the E-FanX. The current design it is working on involves the BAe 146, which has 4 engines. The project, in collaboration with Rolls Royce and Siemens, aims to replace one of the engines driven by fuel with an electric engine. While this may not seem like a big step into the world of electric aircraft, it marks an important stepping stone in the journey to achieve such a craft. Airbus expects the E-FanX to fly in 2020. The process of achieving this shouldn’t be too onerous, as the aircraft’s design is already tried and tested.

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The Airbus E-Fan X is expected to take its first flight in 2020. Image: Airbus

Final Thoughts

While it may seem ambitious to achieve a fully electric fleet, it doesn’t seem impossible. That being said, the goal to operate an electric fleet by 2030 could be set too soon. The world is certainly committed to a greener, more fuel-efficient future. As such, development of electric aircraft is not likely to stop any time soon. Hybrid electric aircraft are a more important first step to achieving this goal. The challenge with fully electric aircraft is to carry enough power onboard to complete a flight. With this in mind, it is likely that the first electric aircraft will be confined to fairly short routes, while the technology to improve battery capacity advances.

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