A new electric aircraft startup by the name of Wright Electric (a lot of nostalgia amongst electric vehicle startups, huh?) has made the claim that it will begin offering all-electric commercial flight services from London to Paris within a decade. But what do other experts think?
The startup’s electric aircraft — which has yet to be developed, it should be noted — would carry 150 passengers per trip, with trips being only those under 300 miles or so, according to the company.
Quite a claim huh? And no doubt one that may help the startup attract funding, which it should be realized is probably a key aim of the optimistic announcement. Is the target achievable, though? Most industry experts say that such an achievement is much longer off than merely a decade, but they are of course non-omniscient. Personally, though, I’m very skeptical.
As noted by the technology editor of Aviation Weekly (in an interview with the BBC), Graham Warwick: “The battery technology is not there yet. It’s projected to come but it needs a significant improvement. Nobody thinks that is going to happen anytime soon. And there’s all the (safety) certification — those rules are yet to be created, and that takes time.”
The point about regulations is something I had in mind as well. That’s not necessarily a simple matter to solve in less than a decade — even presuming that the technology itself is there.
A representative for the low-cost provider Easyjet commented: “Easyjet has had discussions with Wright Electric and is actively providing an airline operator’s perspective on the development of this exciting technology.”
The BBC provides more: “Wright Electric said by removing the need for jet fuel, the price of travel could drop dramatically. … The company is relying heavily on innovation in battery technology continuing to improve at its current rate. If not, the firm will not be able to build in enough energy to give the plane the range it needs….
“The company is yet to produce a plane of its own and is instead working alongside American inventor Chip Yates, whose own electric aircraft, the Long-ESA, holds the world record for fastest electric aircraft. Wright Electric’s competitors include aviation giant Airbus, which has been developing its electric two-seater plane E-Fan since 2014, and has stated plans to create its own short-haul electric aeroplane seating 70 to 90 passengers. …
“Wright Electric’s goal, detailed in a presentation given to potential investors on Tuesday, is to make all short-haul flights electric-powered within the next 20 years, which would be about 30% of all flights made globally.”
Notably, Wright Electric is being backed by the well-known startup incubator program Y Combinator in Silicon Valley. So, the development money is likely there — the question is simply a matter of what’s technically possible in the near future and regulations.
For sure, major investors who missed out on the Tesla boom are eager to get in at just the right time for an electric aircraft success of a similar nature. Whether that’s Wright Electric or not is a wide open question at this point.
Wright Electric’s co-founder Jeff Engler noted: “Depending on how it’s designed, you can have an electric plane that’s substantially less loud than a fuel plane. … The way we’ve designed our plane is to have modular battery packs for quick swap using the same cargo container that’s in a regular airplane. We want it to be as fast as possible, so airlines can keep their planes in the air as long as possible and cover their costs.”
It should be noted that there are several startups and some large companies focused on small electric aircraft (typically vertical takeoff and landing, or VOTN, aircraft). We recently highlighted 9 of these companies here: “9 Personal Flying Vehicles — CleanTechnica’s New “Flying Car” Overview Page.”
One key difference with Wright Electric is that it plans to launch (no pun initially intended) a larger aircraft that carries many more passengers and operates more or less like a normal plane (but a bit more nicely) from the consumer side of things.
What are your thoughts on Wright Electric? The Tesla of airplanes? Jumping the gun and overly optimistic? Or something else?