Meanwhile, small, single-passenger electric planes are also getting the green light to fly, some of which are used by militaries in Europe. Electric seaplanes are being tested and used in Canada. Analysts at the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory now predict that 50- to 70-seat hybrid electric aircraft could be operational within a decade.
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Industry experts say electric aircraft could solve major problems for airlines, manufacturers and industry experts. It can help companies deliver on promises of lower emissions and make shorter aircraft routes more financially viable by reducing fuel and maintenance costs.
But significant challenges remain, starting with battery technology, which needs to advance quickly to make commercial travel viable. On top of that, planes will need regulatory approvals, and airlines will need to convince passengers that flying thousands of feet in the air using battery power is also safe.
“We haven’t done anything new with airplanes in forever,” said Gökçen Cinar, associate professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Michigan. But “there is definitely a lot that we need to work on.”
Globally, commercial aviation accounts for 2.4 percent of the world’s climate emissions, but that could rise to 22 percent by 2050 if no changes are made, European government data shows.
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Anders Forslund, founder and CEO of Heart Aerospace, started his company in 2018 and designed the ES-19, a 19-seat electric aircraft. Last week, the company announced a 30-person aircraft, the ES-30.
Company officials say the plane can fly up to 124 miles entirely on batteries and emit no emissions. It is powered by more than 5 tons of lithium-ion batteries stored in its belly, near the landing gear, Forslund said. The aircraft will charge in approximately 30 minutes.
Air Canada has ordered 30 of these aircraft. United Airlines and Mesa Airlines placed orders for 100 each.
The ES-30 has a maximum range of nearly 500 miles, although any flight over 124 miles would require assistance from an onboard sustainable fuel generator. In hybrid mode, the plane will emit 50 percent less carbon emissions than its jet-only counterparts, Forslund says. He added that cabin noise would be much lower than what commercial passengers are accustomed to.
The aircraft’s operating cost per seat is expected to be similar to a 50-person helicopter, which airlines may find financially attractive, the company said. Making electric planes that are economically attractive to airlines is key to their widespread adoption and reducing climate emissions, Forslund said.
“If only you could make [the plane] Business is technical, not commercial,” he said, “then the climate proposal would be minimal. “
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Experts warn that the skies are unlikely to be filled with all-electric aircraft anytime soon.
Scientists will have to push lithium-ion technology to unknown limits or make batteries using other chemicals. The FAA has not finalized how to certify electric planes as safe for passenger flight. Jennar said the FAA is working on these regulations, but it’s unclear whether they will be ready before 2028.
“Normally, our industry doesn’t make big changes. You make small changes over time,” she said. “So there is a high risk, but a high return.”
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