Electric Aircraft for a greener sky
Electric Aircraft, often referred to as EV Aircraft, represent a groundbreaking advancement in aviation technology. These aircraft are powered by electricity and are designed and enhanced to reduce the environmental effects of aviation. This includes providing zero emissions and quieter flights.
The primary electricity source for these planes can vary, including methods like solar panels, but the most common is batteries technology. The possibility of electric aircraft has been known for some time.
The first successful test flight was completed in 2019 by Eviation Alice. This aircraft had the capacity to carry nine passengers and two pilots, all without a drop of traditional fuel. This Washington state-based aviation company is targeting commuter and cargo flights spanning distances of 150 to 250 miles (240 to 400 km). This is comparable to a flight from New York City to Boston.
The swift evolution of electric and hybrid-electric propulsion is rapidly revolutionizing mobility from automotive to marine. And the aviation industry is no exception.
New technologies and emerging concepts
Advanced Air Mobility
To add a new term to your vocabulary, the US regulator FAA has also introduced Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) as an emerging ecosystem. It relies on an array of innovative technologies of electric aircraft, or electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft. They are monitoring infrastructure, licensing, pilot or unmanned control, airport/heliport, airways, urban scenarios, cargo, and passenger as examples.
Another trend within electric aviation is eVTOL. Many innovators are working on small electric aircraft that can carry several passengers or small cargo loads for short distances. These Electric Vertical Take Off and Landing aircraft are designed to take off and land without runways.
Cargo carrier innovation in this category may be easier over passenger carriers as the restrictions are reduced. Many new criteria of flight must be tested and defined by regulators.
Electric Cargo Planes
The largest autonomous, all electric plane with a 200-mile range (322 km) and 400 pounds (181 kilograms) limit is the Pelican Cargo. The manufacturer Pyka in California has had successful electric flights in Costa Rica.
Equipped with four electric motors and a swappable 50 KW battery powered, this cargo plane only requires a short runway of 600 feet (183 meters) of gravel, dirt, or grass to take-off and land. Pyka expects launch customer Skyports to begin daily trial services in the U.K. to undisclosed offshore islands in the second half of 2023.
The unique challenges of the electric aviation sector
Despite the promising advancements in electric aviation, progress has been somewhat slow, especially when compared to electric innovations in ground transportation. The main reason is that it is much simpler to radically modify a car, bus, or train, even if they look very similar to traditional fossil-fuel vehicles on the outside. Additionally, land vehicles can easily cope with the extra mass from electricity storage or electrical propulsion systems. Aircraft pose unique challenges due to their sensitivity to changes in weight and energy requirements.
For instance, increasing the mass of a car by 35% leads to an increase in energy use of 13-20%. But for a plane, energy use is directly proportional to mass. Increasing its mass by 35% means it needs 35% more energy (all other things being equal).
The future is now
In a significant move towards sustainable aviation, Canadian carrier Air Canada has placed a purchase order for 30 hybrid-electric aircrafts from Swedish manufacturer Heart Aerospace, while also securing a US$5-million stake in the company. This gives the airline influence over the future of zero-emission flying. They deem this to also be a leadership role to address climate change.
Meanwhile, the British eco-baron Dale Vince has revealed plans for the world’s first Electric Airlines company named ECOJET and powered by renewable energy. Schedules across the UK and Europe are set to start in early 2024. They will use 19-seat and 70-seat aircraft as retrofitted with hydrogen-electric powertrains. This marked a remarkable step forward in the realm of electric aviation.
As a conclusion, the future has arrived, and electric power has engulfed air, land, and sea transportations. It is expected that technological innovation will continue, with ongoing innovations driving progress.
Although the current emphasis lies on short distances of typically a few hundred miles, the potential for long hauls could expand as advancements in hardware and battery weight reduction pave the way for further exploration.