Ryanair Doesn’t See Electric Aircraft Serving Airlines Any Time Soon

Ryanair may have linked up with Trinity College in Dublin to research more sustainable fuel options. However, when it comes to electric planes, the airline’s management believes the technology is still too underdeveloped to be of benefit to the carrier for the next 15 years. Meanwhile, LCC competitor easyJet has partnered to introduce a 186-seater all-electric plane by 2030.

Ryanair, COVID-19, Change Fee
Ryanair’s director of sustainability does not believe electric flight technology has come far enough to be of use to the airline within the next fifteen years. Photo: Getty Images

Longer-term solution

Much of the aviation industry is basing its hopes on achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 on the arrival of new propulsion technologies, such as electric and hydrogen, along with the proliferation of sustainable fuels. Carriers such as United Airlines have already declared interest in as many as 100 of Swedish startup Heart Aerospace’s 19-seater electric aircraft.

However, low-cost giant Ryanair is less optimistic about electric planes for the airline’s fleet in the near future. Speaking at the Aviation Investor Forum last week, the carrier’s Director of  Sustainability and Finance, Thomas Fowler, said he doesn’t believe electric planes will be a viable alternative within the next 15 years.

“I think electric planes will come in the longer term. In the medium-term, I don’t see something like that helping us,” Mr Fowler was quoted by Irish news outlet the Business Post.

Waiting for more breakthroughs

While millions of dollars are going into R&D into electric flight technology, the planes in the pipeline are all shorter range and, thus far, cannot carry that many passengers. This is, not surprisingly, hardly something that goes hand in hand with Ryanair’s business model.

“That makes it a little bit more challenging in how it would work in our operation. I don’t think there have been enough big wins with the engine technology advancement, yet I think electric planes have a role to play, but not in the next 15 years. We need a little bit more advancement and will take a lot more breakthroughs to get it over the line,” Mr Fowler continued.

easyJet, Berlin Brandenburg, Berlin Airport
Ryanair competition easyJet and Wright Electric have partnered to bring a 300NM 186-seater electric aircraft into service by 2030. Photo: Getty Images

Wright 1 in service by 2030

Meanwhile, one of Ryanair’s foremost competitors, easyJet, has partnered with US firm Wright Electric to develop a 186-seater aircraft, known as Wright 1. The company is developing a new powerplant which will be based on a 1.5MW electric motor and a 3kV inverter. Flight testing of the engine is meant to take place in 2023.

The aircraft will undergo aerodynamics testing parallel to engine development. Both parties are confident that the aircraft could enter service as soon as 2030 and travel as far as 300NM. This means it could operate routes such as Oslo to Stockholm, Madrid to Barcelona, London to Amsterdam, or Rome to Palermo.

Ryanair Doesn’t See Electric Aircraft Serving Airlines Any Time Soon
Rolls-Royce’s electric ‘Spirit of Innovation’ made its first flight in September. Photo: Rolls-Royce

Spirit of Innovation

At the same time, battery technology is moving forward. Just last month, Rolls-Royce’s electric airplane – the Spirit of Innovation – took to the skies for the very first time. It features the most power-dense battery pack developed for an aircraft thus far.

Rolls-Royce and airframer Tecnam are also working with Nordic regional airline Widerøe to develop an aircraft particularly suited to its commuter market. The intention is for the plane to enter revenue service by 2026 – at the same time as Heat Aerospace’s ES-19. Healthy competition is never more encouraging than when it is applied to environmental solutions.