EasyJet, the low cost airline serving Europe and the UK, is working with US startup Wright Electric to build an electric airplane that can carry passengers on the short hops its business model is based on. “Electric flying is becoming a reality and we can now foresee a future that is not exclusively dependent on jet fuel,” easyJet CEO tells Quartz. The two companies intend to begin testing a 9-passenger electric airplane in 2019.
EasyJet executive Peter Duffy told The Guardian last year that working with Wright Electric will help both companies understand what is required to make an electric airplane suitable for commercial use by focusing on such things as maintenance and revenue management. “You’re seeing cities and countries starting to talk about banning diesel combustion engines. That would have been unthinkable just a short time ago,” Duffy said. “As technology moves on, attitudes shift, ambitions change, and you see opportunities you didn’t see. This is genuinely exciting.”
Wright Electric has a goal of producing an electric airplane that can carry up to 150 passengers on flights of less than 300 miles within 10 years. Short haul routes are the backbone of the airline industry, especially in Europe and the UK. Both the Airbus 320 and Boeing 737 are designed specifically to service such routes.
As we reported last year, Wright Electric claims an electric airplane will be 50% quieter and cost 10% less for airlines to purchase and operate. The key to its plan is to mount the batteries for the planes inside conventional aircraft shipping containers so they can be easily swapped out and replaced with fully charged units as needed.
Just this week, we also brought you news about Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, where researchers are working on making structural batteries that use carbon fiber to store electricity. That idea may or may not work work well for automobiles but it might be the best idea since sliced bread for aircraft. Making the structure of the plane also serve as a battery could cut down significantly on the combined weight of fuselage and battery pack. Weight is the enemy of range in road-going electric vehicles, but is of critical importance when it comes to machines that fly through the air.
Decarbonizing air travel is a vital part of protecting the Earth from warmer temperatures. Electric airplanes could be critical to meeting carbon dioxide reduction goals in years to come.
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