With automotive customers moving away from petrol and diesel cars to greener, alternatives it seems the aviation industry is now finally following suit with a raft of companies making electric planes, including EasyJet, Airbus, Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Siemens and even NASA
EasyJet, Boeing and Siemens are among the companies making electric planes as aviation explores new ways to go green.
look to reduce their carbon emissions and meet European environmental targets.
The industry is a major contributor to climate change, generating more than 600 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year and, if it continues increasing capacity at the same rate, it will consume a quarter of the world’s carbon budget by 2050.
At the start of the decade, the European Commission set out ambitious targets for aviation industry to meet by 2050, including a 75% reduction in CO2 emissions per passenger kilometre and a 90% reduction in nitrous oxide emissions.
Following in the footsteps of the electric vehicle boom currently underway across the automotive industry, plane manufacturers, commercial airlines and start-ups are now in a race to produce the world’s first electric planes.
Companies making electric planes: EasyJet and Wright Electric
European budget airline EasyJet has partnered with US-based start-up Wright Electric with the ambition of creating an electric commercial plane for short-haul flights.
Wright Electric, which is developing an electric engine that will power the nine-seater plane, states its ambition for every short flight to be zero emissions within 20 years.
The Airbus A320neo will be the first electric plane to use the Wright Electric engine in EasyJet’s fleet.
The full size craft will have room for 120 passengers while a nine-seater aircraft could be ready for flight as soon as next year.
It will have 15% lower carbon emissions, a 50% lower noise footprint on take-off and landing and will have a range of 335 miles – making the Airbus A320neo suitable for 20% of EasyJet’s flights.
EasyJet CEO Johan Lundgren said: “Looking forward, the technological advancements in electric flying are truly exciting and it is moving fast.
“From the two-seater aircraft, which is already flying, to the nine-seater, which will fly next year, electric flying is becoming a reality and we can now foresee a future that is not exclusively dependent on jet fuel.”
Companies making electric planes: Boeing and Zunum Aero
US multinational corporation Boeing has backed Zunum Aero - a New York start-up which is developing a hybrid electric plane.
The small 12-seater craft will be designed for short-haul commutes and will begin flight testing in 2019.
Zunum Aero co-founder Matt Knapp said: “We have experienced a groundswell of interest in our aircraft, across the aviation sector and around the world, ranging from regional carriers and business aviation to corporate fleets and cargo operators.”
The start-up anticipates its electric aircraft will create 40% lower noise emissions, speed up airport departures and reduce commercial costs.
Companies making electric planes: Rolls-Royce, Airbus and Siemens
Three heavy-weights from the aviation, technology and engineering industries have teamed up to develop a hybrid-electric propulsion system for a commercial aircraft.
The partnership between Rolls-Royce, Airbus and Siemens was announced in 2017, and pledged their shared commitment to meeting the goals of the European Commission’s Flightpath 2050.
Rolls-Royce states its aim is to deliver a two megawatt electric motor, known as the E-Fan X – the most powerful in the world to ever fly.
Rolls-Royce chief technology officer Paul Stein said: “This is an exciting time for us as this technological advancement will result in Rolls-Royce creating the world’s most powerful flying generator.”
The British engineering giant will be responsible for the turbo-shaft engine, two megawatt generator and power electronics, while Siemens will deliver the two megawatt electric motors and their power units.
Airbus will work on the integration of the electric propulsion systems into the aircraft.
Companies making electric planes: NASA
US space agency NASA is developing what it hopes will be the first all-electric plane.
The aircraft, called X-57 Maxwell, is being developed to demonstrate the benefits of electrical propulsion for the aviation industry.
NASA claims the X-57 Maxwell will produce a “500% increase in high-speed cruise efficiency, zero in-flight carbon emissions, and a flight that is much quieter for the community on the ground”.
The aircraft will use 14 electric motors along the wings and will be powered solely by rechargeable lithium batteries.
Companies making electric planes: Avinor
The two-seater plane took Norway’s minister of transport and communications Ketil Solvik-Olsen on its maiden flight in June.
Avinor CEO Dag Falk-Petersen said: “At Avinor, we want to demonstrate that electric aircraft are already available on the market, as well as help make Norway a pioneer of electric aviation in the same way as the country has become a pioneer of electric cars.”
It now with hopes to have the first passengers flying in electric planes by 2025, with a longer-term plan to electrify Norwegian domestic aviation by 2040.
Companies making electric planes: Eviation
Israeli company Eviation is focused on developing a completely electric commuter plane.
Instead of creating an electric system for existing planes, Eviation is looking to increase efficiencies by drawing up a completely new plane design.
Through a proposed 100% electric solution, code-named Alice, it features one main propeller at the rear and two “pusher propellers” on the wingtips to reduce drag.
It can fit nine passengers, has a cruise speed of 240 knots (276mph) - a passenger airline typically cruises at up to 500 knots (575mph) - and can fly 650 miles on a single charge.
Eviation claims the aircraft will be zero-emission and plans on carrying out a test flight at the 53rd Paris Air Show in June 2019.
Companies making electric planes: Joby Aviation
As well as working alongside NASA in creating the aerodynamic innovations for the space agency’s X-57 Maxwell, the Californian start-up is also working on its own electric flying taxi programme.
The ultimate aim for Joby Aviation is to create a vehicle that is capable of transporting customers to their destination five-times faster than driving and with zero emissions.
The small aircraft will have a flight speed twice that of a helicopter.
It will have five seats and be capable of flying 150 miles on a single charge – while apparently 100-times quieter than conventional aircraft during take-off and landing.
Joby Aviation hopes to reduce costs by minimising fuel and operating expenses, which it argues are a “significant component” of air travel costs.
The start-up is now working on an app, where those wanting to travel can book a flight with one click.
Companies making electric planes: Ampaire
California-based tech start-up Ampaire is developing an electric plane capable of taking seven to nine people on journeys over 100 miles.
Its TailWind-E model is powered by an electric propulsion system and promises to make operating costs 25% lower and eliminate 99% of CO2 emissions.
It claims its electric engine will also be 66% quieter and smoother than fuel propulsion.
In February, CEO and co-founder Kevin Noertker claimed the first test flight would happen in 2018 but has made no further announcements about this yet.
Companies making electric planes: Equator Aircraft Norway
Aviation start-up Equator Aircraft Norway showcased the maiden flight of its electric-hybrid seaplane prototype, the P2 Xcursion in July.
The aircraft uses a hybrid electric propulsion system that allows it to take off and land both on solid ground and water.
It features slow float wings that help to stabilise the plane while on the waves, a maximum take-off weight of 750kg and a maximum speed of 130 knots (150mph), though it can fly in “economy mode” at 118 knots (135mph) for up to 1,565km.
Speaking at the Farnborough air show 2018, designer and CEO Tomas Brødreskift said: “It was a fantastic day for the team, and marks the real beginning of the test program for the aircraft prototype.
“We are now looking forward to gaining actual flight data, not to mention looking forward to putting the aircraft on the water as soon as possible.
“We are thrilled to see that the aircraft perform as expected, and can’t wait to test the aircraft further.”
The problem companies making electric planes face
One of the main issues with electric aircraft is their reliance on battery power.
Andrew Murphy, aviation manager at Transport and Environment (T&E), a European non-governmental group for cleaner transport, said: “The problem with aviation is that the batteries are very heavy so you wouldn’t be able to fly a very long distance with a battery-powered electric aircraft.
“The other important feature of liquid fuels is that they are burned through the course of the flight, therefore the aircraft becomes lighter as the flight goes on and can travel a further distance.”
It is for this reason that many of the companies making electric planes are focusing on short-haul aircraft, with the hope that a lighter battery will become available as the technology develops.