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Electric flight: is it going to Save Our Planet?

For the last 150 years, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have risen an average of 35-40% on account of the 3 billion passengers that are sent into the air every year with an astronomic release of around 500 million tons of carbon dioxide. In other words, every time a single person flies from London to New York return, they generate approximately the same gas emissions needed to heat a residential home for a year. According to the International Civil Aviation Organisation, the situation is critical as these emissions will triple in volume by 2050.

Although some governments recognise the dangers and effects this may bring to our environment and climate change and despite some carbon-trading programs among airlines being implemented to reduce fuel consumption by 15-20%, the risks mitigated are still less than the negative effects caused due to continuous growth of air traffic, which is said to double by 2031.

RPK = Revenue Passenger Kilometres

It seems that the only solution to save our planet is to evolve completely from fossil-fuel-powered aeroplanes to electric-powered flight and its potential benefits, yet to be explored and developed further, of no fuel required and zero emissions generated. However, this technology is nothing new and has been developed since 1940 when Fred Militky toyed with electric motors to propel model aircraft but due to battery’ issues there were no good results. Later in 1960 with his ‘’Silentius’’ and in 1972 with his ‘’Hi-Fly’’ models, Fred managed to improve the technology using high power batteries known as ‘’Ni-Cd’’, models that were commercially produced and opened the door to the first electric flight (15 mins) of a manned aircraft, carried out by pilot H. Brditschka in 1973.

Development steps as performed by Fred Militky leading to man-carrying electric aircraft

The evolution of electric-powered flight has been dramatic since 1973 and more recently outstanding achievements have been obtained; especially by the manned electric airplane, e-Genius, developed in 2011 by University of Stuttgart in Germany and which operated its first flight on the 25 May 2011. e-Genius has broken more than seven world records so far, burning no fuel and emitting zero emissions.

• Completing a 100 kilometre (62.1 miles) flight with an average speed of 178.1 km/h (110.7 mph) • Completing a 500 kilometre (310.7 miles) flight with an average speed of 93.03 km/h (57.81 mph) • Setting a new record for the furthest distance flown: 504 kilometres (313.2 miles) • Maintaining an altitude of 6350 metres (20833 feet) • Reaching an absolute altitude of 6376 metres (20919 feet) • Time to climb to 6000 metres: 1:53 hours • Reaching a maximum speed of 229.7 km/h (142.7 mph) on a 15 km (9.3 miles) leg

The responsibility to make changes lies now on the big players and innovative companies and with a $22 billion estimated market at stake within 15 years, there is a huge incentive. Wright Electric (WE) is an excellent example; founded in 2016, they intent to reduce global warming via electric aviation and with its first plane to be designed for flights of less than 300 miles like New York-Boston, London-Paris, and Seoul-Jeju with a capacity of 150 passengers. WE aims at covering all short-haul flights electric-powered by 2040, which means 30% of all flights worldwide would have zero emissions. Furthermore, companies such as Boeing and Airbus have already revealed plans to re-design modern aeroplanes. Boeing created the SUGAR volt concept, whereas Airbus its E-Fan, both models to be sold commercially soon in the recreational market but with the intention to learn and create commuter planes within 20 years. The biggest challenge now is to improve battery technology and find answers to questions like;

• What does the total energy balance and the environmental footprint including the manufacture

look like?

• Are there enough raw materials for battery production (automotive/aviation) available?

• How can the required level of safety be achieved and how to adapt certification rules?

At Brookfield Aviation, we remain committed to being at the forefront of the industry and we will evolve and adapt our expertise to any potential opportunity that electric flight brings about.

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