Airplanes emit large amounts of carbon dioxide and they put it high into the atmosphere where it can’t be absorbed easily by the world’s forests and oceans. Globally, airplanes contribute significantly to the total emissions created by the transportation sector. An electric airplane would keep all those emissions out of the skies but the technology isn’t quite there yet except for certain experimental aircraft being tested by NASA and short range oddities that are little more than drones scaled up to fly one or two people short distances.
Wright Electric has been working on a real electric airplane, one that can carry up to 120 passengers on flights of 300 miles or less. Such short hops make up 30% of all flights in Europe and in many other specialized markets such as Hawaii, where jumping from island to island is a regular part of everyday life.
EasyJet is a European airline that specializes in short range journeys such as London to Paris. It announced recently that is it working closely with Wright Electric and expects to begin electric airplane passenger service within a decade. EasyJet CEO Carolyn McCall, says the aerospace industry will soon follow the lead of the automotive industry in developing an electric airplane that will cut emissions and noise.
“For the first time in my career I can envisage a future without jet fuel and we are excited to be part of it,” she said. “It is now more a matter of when, not if, a short haul electric plane will fly.”
EasyJet’s executive Peter Duffy, says working with Wright Electric will help both companies understand what is required to make an electric airplane suitable for commercial use by focusing on such things as maintenance and revenue management. “You’re seeing cities and countries starting to talk about banning diesel combustion engines. That would have been unthinkable just a short time ago,” Duffy says. “As technology moves on, attitudes shift, ambitions change, and you see opportunities you didn’t see. This is genuinely exciting.”
Wright Electric claims an electric airplane will be 50% quieter and cost 10% less for airlines to purchase and operate. The key to their plan is to mount the batteries for the planes inside conventional aircraft shipping containers so they can be easily swapped out a and replaced with fully charged units as needed.
An electric airplane for commercial service is not possible today because the batteries available are too heavy. But Wright and EasyJet are anticipating improvements in battery technology will make the batteries they need possible within ten years. Based on the steady flow of news about breakthroughs in laboratories around the world, they may well be right.
Source: The Guardian