London Heathrow has issued an ambitious challenge to the people manufacturing the next generation of aircraft. The airport, which consistently ranks within the top 10 busiest airports in the world, has announced that the first electric-hybrid aircraft in production will have landing fees waived for a year. This marks a world first, as the airport looks for ways that it can help to make air travel much more environmentally friendly. There are currently two big players in the race to get an electric aircraft into the sky. Boeing is backing startup Zunum Aero, while Airbus is developing the E-Fan X in cooperation with Siemens and Rolls Royce.
Zunum Aero is working on creating a family of electric-hybrid aircraft. The family will be comprised of regional jets, which will have up to 50 seats. Initially, the company is working on a 6 to 12 seater aircraft to prove the viability of the program before expanding to a 19 seat design. This larger aircraft will have a range of 700nmi, which is expected to increase with technological advances. With the aircraft designed to use electricity and not jet fuel, operating costs are expected to be 40-80% less than comparable aircraft. While the aircraft will reportedly be powered solely by batteries for short trips, it will also have generator possibilities to extend the maximum range. It is expected that batteries would have to be replaced every 6 months following 1,000-1,500 cycles.
Airbus E-Fan X
Meanwhile, in Europe Airbus is working in collaboration with Rolls Royce and Siemens to take a slightly different approach to the problem. The E-Fan X is essentially a BAe146 with one turbofan replaced with an electric fan. This means that the aircraft will be unable to be operated as a fully electric aeroplane, however, will come under the hybrid-electric category defined by London Heathrow. It is expected that the E-Fan X will take to the skies in 2020. Airbus is hoping to commence public flights a year later in 2021. The E-Fan is currently the most likely aircraft to claim Heathrow’s prize, being perfect for short regional flights such as London to Paris.
The Cheif of Technology at Airbus, Mr Grazia Vittadini, commented on the prize saying: “With air traffic projected to double every 15 years, it is our duty as an industry to find solutions that ensure sustainable growth with minimal environmental impact. At Airbus, this is our driving force for developing electric and hybrid-electric propulsion technologies. We commend Heathrow Airport’s initiative to jump-start the adoption of hybrid-electric technologies with the launch of the Grand Innovation Prize!”
Heathrow estimates that the prize, which has been dubbed the Grand Innovation Prize, would be worth up to one million pounds. London Heathrow expects that electric aircraft could touch down at major International Airports by 2030. The £1,000,000 figure was calculated by assuming an A320 sized aircraft would land three times a day. Speaking about the prize, the CEO of London Heathrow Airport, Mr John Holland-Kaye, told a press release: “Heathrow has long been a leader in sustainable aviation. We championed carbon neutral growth in global aviation, which will come into effect in 2020. The next frontier is zero carbon flying, and I hope this prize will help to make it a reality at Heathrow by 2030.”
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