EasyJet to help develop all-electric plane

UK budget airline easyJet is to collaborate with US company Wright Electric to develop an all-electric plane for flights under two hours.

Wright Electric is working towards producing a fully electric plane within a decade with a further ambitious goal for every short flight to be zero-emissions within 20 years. It is aiming for an aircraft range of 335 miles which would cover 20 percent of passengers flown by easyJet today.

Dame Carolyn McCall, easyJet's chief executive, said: "We share an ambition with Wright Electric for a more sustainable aviation industry.

"Just as we have seen with the automotive industry, the aviation industry will be looking to electric technology to reduce our impact on the environment. For the first time we can envisage a future without jet fuel and we are excited to be part of it. It is now more a matter of when not if a short-haul electric plane will fly."

Wright Electric has already demonstrated its first two seater plane, revealing how technology works on a smaller scale. Now, the business aims to prove the technology can be scaled to accommodate the needs of larger commercial aircraft.

The battery in the two seater plane weighs approximately 600 lbs, however when scaled up Wright Electric will utilise new energy storage chemistries that are substantially lighter than today’s commercial batteries.

EasyJet said the partnership was part of a strategy to progressively decarbonise and reduce noise from aviation operations. Since 2000, the airline claimed its emissions have reduced by more than 31 percent from 116.2 grams to 79.98 grams per passenger kilometre in 2016.

The budget carrier has a carbon emissions target of 72 grams by 2022, which would be a 10 percent reduction from today’s performance and a 38 percent improvement from 2000.

Other elements of the strategy include the introduction of the A320neo and A321neo aircraft and electric tugs and hydrogen technology to power aircraft taxiing will provide zero emissions and silent airfield operations.

Speaking at World Routes 2017 in Barcelona this week, VivaAerobus chief executive Juan Carlos Zuazua said an all-electric plane would be "transformational" for the aviation industry.

"We’d love to see a fully electric plane like what's happening in the automobile industry. It’ll be very difficult and take a long time to develop, but hopefully we can get one in the next decade."

Skúli Mogensen, chief executive and founder of Icelandic carrier WOW Air, agreed that an all-electric jet would be a game-changer, but questioned whether ten years was a realistic time scale. "I think it will take more than a decade based on past performance," he said.

David Casey

David Casey is Editor in Chief of Routes, the global route development community's trusted source for news and information.