BY BERNARD LAKEY, WYNNUM RESIDENT
The Wright Brothers put wings under the dreams of hundreds of generations in creating powered flight. Many changes have occurred since their historic flight, for example, shape, speed, and size of planes. But one thing has remained constant – their reliance on aviation fuel…until now. Electrification is coming to aviation.
Well-known for producing conventional jet engines, Rolls Royce has recently developed the “Spirit of Innovation”, an all-electric aircraft that reached 532km/h and climbed 3000metres in 60 seconds in Nov 2021. In Sweden, Heart Aerospace’s ES-19 is designed for short-haul flights up to 400kms, carrying up to 19 passengers. They have orders from United Airlines for 100 planes. In the US, Wright Electric have developed the BAe 146, capable of carrying 100 passengers on one-hour flights. The European company, EasyJet, has placed orders with Wright Electric. The ES-19 and BAe 146 are scheduled for commercial flights in 2026. Not to be outdone, Airbus is working on eVOTL and fixed-wing aircraft and is also the official founding partner of Air Race E – the world’s first all-electric aeroplane race. The objectives of Air Race E are to create a platform to nurture innovation in electric propulsion and accelerate commercial development.
Electric aircraft have inherent advantages; they are quiet and vibration-free for a more pleasant relaxed trip for passengers. For airlines, smaller airports and shorter runways can be used, leading to greater flexibility in scheduling. Also, because of their simplicity, operation and maintenance costs for electric motors are much lower than for jet engines (about 90% saving). From the airport’s perspective, it allows commercial flights without the huge costs of redeveloping runways and increased operation in noise-sensitive airports.
As battery technology improves, one innovation under development is retrofitting planes with batteries, seen as a quicker path to certification than starting anew. Long haul flights will continue to use aviation fuel for some time as current batteries are not as energy-dense as aviation fuel, but this will change in the future; how far into the future is anyone’s guess. It might be much sooner than we think.