Why airlines are looking into electric aircraft

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption The superbusiness is likely to be a more frequent flyer and frequent flyer will have room for more room Imagine travelling tomorrow on your 2019 electric aircraft, operated…

Why airlines are looking into electric aircraft

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption The superbusiness is likely to be a more frequent flyer and frequent flyer will have room for more room

Imagine travelling tomorrow on your 2019 electric aircraft, operated by Delta or Alitalia, operated by United, and carrying passengers from central Tokyo to Oslo for $1,000 (£845). It looks like a surreal economic innovation of the future.

The idea is actually a reality. And it should become even more common in the future.

Many airlines have been working to develop small electric or hybrid-electric aircraft with potential for making large savings on fuel, maintenance, and noise.

A common characteristic is that the passenger seats will be larger than the ones on legacy jets, allowing more room for large luggage.

The cost of fuelling is not that much greater because the aircraft will need far less fuel to run. But the main advantage is that the long haul routes are now feasible.

Dreaming about flying a small aircraft would make a lot of sense for companies that are already spread over a huge region, such as the US, which is home to hundreds of airline service carriers.

If the airlines’ schedules are spread out over hundreds of routes, then running a small aircraft would be more cost-effective than a transcontinental ticket.

Technically, the aircraft is an EC135, a less-fuel intensive version of a regional jet, designed by Airbus.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption The cabin is smaller to fit more seats on a transcontinental flight

The Airbus design calls for a two-person cabin and six-seat in the front. It gets an electric-powered propeller from Honeywell Aerospace and runs on a gas turbine engine.

Norwegian Air Shuttle runs the largest of the existing EC135s in Europe on long-haul routes to the US, but it is putting a new version, the A220, from Bombardier, into service for the first time in 2019.

Sierra Nevada Corp is developing an electric medium-range aircraft, the Dream Chaser, which is due to make its first flight by the end of the year.

Those are two examples of longer-range electric commercial transport, but there are plenty of others. General Electric and Proterra are conducting a large demonstration of an electric short-haul plane at Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Airbus and Boeing are seeking to build small electric aircraft, but for short-haul routes. More efficiency would be gained by running an electric plane on hybrid systems with less fuel.

There are also potential designs to fill the gap between regional and long-haul flights, making both air traffic control and competition more efficient.

Delta Airlines, for example, runs four Bombardier CRJ900s at a time between New York, Orlando and Atlanta using smaller regional jets. It has announced plans to roll out an air-taxi service, in which the smaller planes would fly passengers between smaller cities.

There is a chance that in the future, on such long-haul routes, the same companies could launch tiny electric aircraft on short-haul routes, followed by transcontinental flights using the larger new aircraft.

Some of the new generation of fuel-efficient superbusiness jets will be expected to carry as many as six passengers or 10 rather than three or four today.

But at least on the most densely-congested transcontinental routes, shorter-haul cargo jets can remain under four passengers.

If operations are spread out over a much wider network of flights, rather than a few high-density ones, for example connecting New York to the US West Coast, there may be a role for four-passenger jets.

Leave a Comment