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The Future: Electric Energy Aeroplanes?

The aviation industry is challenging, it is both a labour-intensive and capital-intensive. From wars to natural disasters to the recent pandemic, it seems that everything that happens in this world affects aviation, not to mention the rising oil prices. Many countries are now in a strong economic recovery phase. Airlines around the world are watching booking trends, especially for short-haul tickets. Yet just at this time, Russia did the untimely thing - invading Ukraine in February. Since then, oil prices have risen from $18 a barrel in early 2020 to over $100 a barrel.

In 2008, because of the high price of oil, "electric energy" became the focus of the public. Whether it is electric cars, hybrid cars, or electric scooters, they are gradually becoming the new choice of energy drive under the rise of environmental awareness. Will electric aircraft become the future of the aviation industry?

According to the European Commission data, aircraft emissions currently account for about 4% of global greenhouse gases, and is still growing. The European Commission's goal is to reduce aircraft emissions per kilometre of carbon dioxide by 60%, nitrogen oxide pollution by 90%, and noise by 75% by 2050, and the electric aircraft is one of the keys. For example, Norwegian airline Avinor recently announced a rather ambitious goal, hoping that by 2040, all domestic short-haul routes will be flown by electric planes. Avinor Airlines is currently testing a small 19-passenger electric aircraft and hopes to launch passenger service in 2025 if things go well.

EasyJet is also working with Wright Electric, a U.S. start-up, to develop a 540-kilometer electric airliner that will cover 20 percent of EasyJet's routes, with the hope that within 10 years it will be able to fly short-haul routes such as London to Paris and Amsterdam. The next step is to expand to 10 seats, and eventually to a 120-passenger single-aisle commercial short-haul airliner," said EasyJet CEO Carolyn McCall at the time. "For the first time, the aviation industry can imagine not relying on petroleum-based fuels and worrying about its harmful carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions.

Dutch startup Venturi Aviation said it is confident it will bring a 44-seat all-electric regional jet to market by 2030, Flight International reported on May 12. Venturi is reportedly developing an "Echelon 01" all-electric regional jet, which its founder Jan Willem Heinen said is designed with a distributed propulsion system with eight independent electric motors. The aircraft will have an operational range of about 550 kilometres and will be able to carry 44 passengers. With a maximum take off weight of 45 tons, it is more than twice that of the conventionally fuelled ATR 42-600. The all-electric regional jet is said to make its first flight between 2026 and 2027.

Although the vision of electric aircraft is good, there are still many difficulties waiting for a breakthrough at this stage. How to charge quickly, the power of the batteries needed and the maintenance cost are all practical issues to consider when pushing electric airliners to commercialization. Regardless of the flight speed and number of passengers, the current capacity is far below that of traditional passenger aircraft, and there is still a long way to go to achieve the ideal of the "pure electric commercial airliner".


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