Electric planes will take to the skies above Europe for the first time next year as what has been described as the aviation industry’s greatest revolution since the 1930s. Easyjet is set to be the electric aviation trailblazer as its 9-seat electric hybrid prototype starts to clock up test hours in the skies above Europe.
If all goes well, the budget airline expects to begin transitioning its European fleet to full-size models with a capacity of 120 passengers and range of 310 miles by sometime between the middle and end of the next decade.
The Easyjet prototype is manufactured by U.S. electric flight start-up Wright Electric and a conditional contract is also in place with the company to provide the future commercial fleet. The first generations of electric aircraft will be ‘hybrid’ rather than fully electric. A jet engine works alongside the electrical propulsion and is able to take over in the case of any failure of the electrical systems. Electric motors will be employed for taxiing to runways, take-off and ascent. The battery-powered thrusters will provide extra take-off propulsion allowing for steeper ascents. Hybrid planes are expected to cut emissions by 30% on short-haul flights and noise pollution by 50%.
As well as reducing flying costs, by lowering the major overhead of jet fuel, electric planes being less noisy and being able to achieve steeper take-off trajectories will have a major impact on the business model of commercial flight. Take-off slots are likely to be extended to 24-hours due to lower levels of noise pollution and new airports closer to city centres will also become practical.
While nothing has yet been confirmed, the leading contender for the first route to be flown by Easyjet’s new electric aircraft is London-Amsterdam. Its relative short distance and the fact it is the airline’s second busiest UK-Europe route is seeing it earmarked as the ideal choice in terms of both practicality and maximum impact in reducing the airline’s carbon footprint. Belfast, Dublin, Paris and Brussels are other alternatives and even if these routes don’t beat London-Amsterdam when it comes to the milestone of being the first flown by electric planes they would be expected to quickly follow.
Electric flight is a sector that shows immense promise from both an environmental angle and as a business opportunity. The fortunate dovetailing of the two interests is driving innovation forward and there is intense competition between companies jostling for market share. Among those currently working on the latest technology in the world of electric aviation include huge aerospace corporations such as Airbus and Boeing as well as a host of European, U.S. and Asian start-ups. Google co-founder Larry Page is particularly invested in the sector and holds major stakes in at least three U.S.-based start-ups in the space.
Electric flying taxis whose technology has many similarities to that of drones are expected to begin operating commercially even sooner. The Tokyo Olympics of 2020 hopes to showcase flying, electric taxis as a service, with the city’s administration already working on putting the necessary regulation in place.