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.
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.
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.
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.