The pressure on the aviation industry to become more sustainable has been gradually increasing for many years. There are ongoing initiatives to achieve this (biofuels, hydrogen and electric power being the most prominent ones) but none of them seems to be able to provide benefits on a larger scale in any short-term perspective. However, for smaller passenger aircraft electric flight is progressively looking not only promising, but as an option that is not far away. In the Nordic countries a strong societal focus on sustainability and experience in transport going electric is combined with an aviation industry that has many small regional airports and limited passenger numbers. This development has been widely reported, but in this case it is an article in Forbes Magazine (link below) that has provided an overview of the current and projected situation for the use of electric aircraft, with specific focus on the Nordic countries.
The Norwegian regional operator Wideroe are working with engine-manufacturer Rolls-Royce on a zero-emissions aviation research program for two years. In a recent press release it was stated that he aim for the cooperation is for Wideroe to have a 9-seater electric aircraft named P-Volt, in operation five years from now. Before the pandemic, Wideroe operated around 400 flights per day before the start of the current COVID-19 pandemic. For 74% of these flights the distance was less than 275 km (imagine short flights across mountains and fjords). Wideroe has not yet expressed how many of this aircraft it would be planning to acquire. The previous experiences in Norway with buses going electric provides fertile ground for the same development in aviation. Also, last year Norway became the first country in the world where sales of electric cars outpaced that of cars powered by traditional and hybrid engines.
Going a bit more east, Finnair has its sight set on the ES-19 battery-powered aircraft from the Swedish and Gotherburg-based aviation company Heart Aerospace. The ES-19 is a 19 seater propeller driven aircraft with a planned range of 400 km. Heart has received “expressions of interest” for 147 ES-19 aircraft worth about 1.3 billion USD from at least eight airlines. Finnair has signed a preliminary document expressing their intent to buy 20 aircraft of this type, with the same five year time frame for introduction in operations.
Beyond the Nordic countries, the call for for more sustainable aviation and specifically for electric flight comes from others within the industry as well. The CEO of Alaska Airlines recently made this call (link), stating that electric aircraft will be “an essential piece of that strategy to get to a Net Zero in 2040 or 2050, you cannot do it on sustainable fuels alone”. This reflects the growing focus in the industry on solutions which can be implemented sooner rather than later.
The space agency NASA has also recently reported that its experimental X-57 Maxwell all-electric aircraft is soon ready to fly (link). And at Cranfield in the UK, the British-American company ZeroAvia has already operated a six-seater hydrogen and electric aircraft on a short demonstration flight. The aim with this project is to be able to offer a 50 seater aircraft within (by now you guessed it) five years. British Airways is one of the companies investing in this project. The moment of looking up and seeing a passenger aircraft without the noise from traditional engines does no longer seem to be that distant.
Link to article:
Why Scandinavia Is The Perfect Proving Ground For Electric Planes
Yes, the rapid development of electric aircraft is exciting and encouraging!
My guess it that this can be something of a “disruptive technology” since it has clear advantages and disadvantages compared to todays passenger-carrying aircraft. By that, they will probably not only replace todays aircraft but perhaps also compete with other transports – like train.