While we’re still years away from flying off on our summer holidays aboard an electric aircraft, a solar-powered plane has already circumnavigated the globe, and hybrid electric aircraft (which pair electrification with traditional jet fuel), are already being tested for commercial use. Here, we answer some of your most pressing questions about the future of electric planes:
DO ELECTRIC PLANES EXIST?
Fully electric planes have already been developed, and there are lots of companies testing them out already. Battery-powered planes are currently being used in training flights and two-person operations, while hybrid-electric aircraft suitable for use in commercial flights are already being prototyped. Far from being science-fiction, you could find yourself on an electric aircraft sooner than you think!
WHEN WILL ELECTRIC PLANES ARRIVE?
Small electric planes are already flying, but more work is needed before we start seeing large commercial fleets lining up on the runway. The big challenge is making batteries that are dense enough to store the power required for a long flight, but light enough to be carried onboard. Despite this, there are lots of projects that have already proved the potential of electric aircraft, and we can expect to see six- to nine-seat options introduced between 2022 and 2025. 19 seat options are likely to be here by 2030, with larger aircraft set to follow in the years after. In the meantime, hybrid-electric planes, which use a combination of electric power and liquid fuel, will provide a potential solution for long-haul flights.
HOW DO ELECTRIC AIRCRAFT WORK?
Much like the electric cars that have already become a familiar sight on our streets, electric planes use electricity to power their engines rather than traditional liquid jet fuel. There are lots of different ways to power electric planes, but the two most likely options are battery power and hydrogen power, and there is lots of work going on to ensure that these green power options are fuelling commercial flights in the not too distant future.
WILL ELECTRIC FLIGHTS COST MORE TO TRAVEL ON?
Right now, it’s hard to say how much the first commercial electric flights will cost. What we do know is that electricity is much cheaper than traditional jet fuel. Fuel is currently one of the biggest costs for any airline, so removing this expense would mean big savings, which are ultimately likely to be passed on to the passenger. Not only will electric flights be great for the environment, they could ultimately mean cheaper holidays.
WILL ELECTRIC AIRCRAFT EVER HAVE ENOUGH CHARGE TO TAKE US ACROSS THE ATLANTIC?
Current battery technology mean that most electric planes are being designed for relatively short trips – typically up to 300 miles. This makes them perfect for domestic flights, and means that countries like Norway and Sweden are already aiming to introduce short-haul electric routes by 2040. Long-haul flights will take a little longer, however, with battery technology improving every year, hybrid or even fully electric transatlantic flights could become a reality in the decades to come.
HOW WILL ELECTRIC AIRCRAFT BE CHARGED?
Charging an electric aircraft is comparable to charging up an electric car, and just as the dawn of electric cars required a rollout of charging points and other infrastructure, electric flight requires similar investment. Airports and airlines will be working hard over the coming years to develop battery-charging facilities and to work out how to carry out support and maintenance on the ground. Electricity to power aircraft batteries will come from a range of sources, including the energy grid and an airport’s own renewable power supplies.
HOW MUCH BETTER WILL ELECTRIC AND HYBRID-ELECTRIC PLANES BE FOR THE ENVIRONMENT?
Electric aircraft will be much better for the environment, as they significantly reduce – or even completely remove – CO2 emissions. If the power being used to charge electric batteries comes from renewable sources, then electric planes could be completely carbon-neutral. While the aviation industry is working hard on electric aircraft, they are just one way we’re making air travel greener. To ensure that we cut CO2 emissions by 50% by 2050, we’re striving to slash emissions right across the industry.