Pontifications: Bringing some reality on electric airplanes

Nov. 15, 2021, © Leeham News: The momentum and press about electric airplanes is spinning out of control.

By Scott Hamilton

Earlier this month, there was an article from one of the most respected news organizations by a reporter who apparently isn’t an aviation reporter that read like a press release from a start-up company. The normal beat reporter would never have been taken in by the hype.

The start-up claims there will be a battery-powered BAe 146 by 2027 with a 460-mile range. Aviation reporter Jason Rabinowitz had a field day on Twitter with the claim.

LNA’s Bjorn Fehrm wrote a long series about the technical challenges of battery-powered electric airplanes. Let’s now look at the market implications. 

Hype doesn’t live up to reality

It seems like scores of start-ups propose battery-power airplanes. While the number, “scores,” is hyperbolic, these start-ups appear in increasing numbers. The media goes crazy. Investors come out of the woodwork. But few start-ups have a realistic understanding of the limits of battery-powered airplanes. Others make unrealistic claims.

This is not about discouraging science, technology, and innovation. But let’s understand that for all the hype, the impact of battery-powered airplanes will be minuscule.

Nearly all the battery-powered proposals revolve around aircraft of 19 or fewer passengers. This, at least, recognizes the limitations of trying to go “big.” Airbus abandoned the BAe 146 concept as impractical. If Airbus can’t figure it out, it’s questionable how a start-up company can.

According to the 20-year forecast (2020-2040) by the Japan Aircraft Development Corp. (JADC), published in June 2021, by 2040, there will only be 762 commercial aircraft seating 19 or fewer passengers in operation. Just 130 of these will be aircraft currently in operation. The other 632 will be new-build airplanes.

(JADC provides the most detailed forecast of any company LNA has seen. The forecast begins with 15 seat aircraft and steps up, with detailed sectors, to the 400 seat category.)

By 2040, JADC see 4,160 turboprops and 38,868 jets in operation. That’s a total of 43,028 airplanes in commercial service.

Do the math. If 100% of the 15-19 seat turboprops became battery-powered, that would be 18% of the total turboprop sector. It’s a good start, but there are practical reasons why there won’t be a complete battery revolution in the 19-set sector.

More to the point, if the 762 19-seat turboprops all became battery-powered by 2040, this represents a mere 1.7% of all airplanes. This isn’t much of an impact. All the hype doesn’t come close to matching the reality.

Batteries are not totally “clean energy”

The hype ignores the reality that batteries aren’t totally clean energy. The manufacturing, charging and disposal processes must be considered. There recently was an article about electric vs gasoline/diesel cars and the debate on this very subject. Those promoting (and reporting on) electric power ignore these issues.

Compare this omission with the recognition long ago by Airbus, Boeing, Embraer, and—when it was in the commercial aviation business—Bombardier. These companies recognized that the total life cycle of the airplanes had to be considered. When airplanes were scrapped, it no longer was acceptable to merely push the broken-up airplane into a landfill. Recycling meant going beyond turning the aluminum into beer cans. The OEMs and the supply chain began making the rest of the airplane with materials that could be recycled. Boeing, when designing the 787 and its new composite structure, was well aware of the challenge of dealing with composite waste.

And then there is the fundamental issue: batteries simply are not as efficient as carbon fuels.

Multi-pronged approach

Moving toward net-zero emissions by 2050 requires a multi-pronged approach, of course. This is why the industry is studying batteries, hybrid-electric, hydrogen, hydrogen-hybrid and Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF). Each has its technical challenges, which LNA has detailed. The US favors SAF, which requires little in the way of new infrastructure in contrast to, say, hydrogen. But SAF’s major problem is providing enough feedstock to fill the needs.

LNA’s interview with Rick Deurloo of Pratt & Whitney provided a reality check about SAF. He told LNA that a major US airline advised him that it could buy up all the SAF available today and this would supply its fleet of operations for one day. Does anyone really think that there will be a substantial inroad into SAF supplies by 2030 (when Boom claims its SST will run on nothing but SAF), let alone be a significant source for the global commercial aviation fleet by 2050?

Hydrogen has huge production and infrastructure issues to overcome, let alone engine and airplane design requirements. Airbus wants to have a viable commercial hydrogen-powered airplane ready by 2035. It will be a turboprop, probably at 50 seats and perhaps in the 70-seat sector. JADC forecasts there will only be 515 50-seat sector turboprops operating by 2040. Its 70-seat sector forecast sees 1,831 turboprops; 1,206 of these will be new.

Thus, even the most optimistic view of switching to hydrogen doesn’t make much of a dent into clean energy.

Engine advancements

These reality checks aren’t meant to suggest, “don’t do it.” But this once more underscores what LNA wrote Oct. 11: the most realistic solution to reduce emissions in the near- to mid-term is advancements in carbon-based engines. Reducing the fuel burn leads to cutting emissions. GE/CFM/Safran and Rolls-Royce are working on entirely new designs the substantially do both. Pratt & Whitney believes the Geared Turbofan can be evolved over the current decade to achieve significantly lower fuel burn and emissions by the next decade.

As much as the Greta Thunbergs of the world want to move faster and eliminate carbon-based engines entirely, it’s not technologically possible any time soon. Substantially better engines will do more, and more quickly, than all the other technologies combined.

Finally, replacing the tens of thousands of airplanes of the “older” generations (A320/A330ceos, A380, 737NGs/757s/767s,777s, and 747s) will take decades. The fuel efficiencies of the A320/A330neos/A350s, 737 MAXes, 787s, and 777X bring more fuel-efficient engines and lower emissions.

Commercial aviation is and has been making progress. But it’s not an overnight evolution.

65 Comments on “Pontifications: Bringing some reality on electric airplanes

  1. Can’t be done by 2050,and judging by the latest forecasts, everyone knows that. Restricting demand is the only way to prevent emissions from actually increasing.

    • And will demand also be restricted for all other branches of transport and industry, so as to prevent an increase in emissions in those areas also?
      If output from the cement and steel industries is restricted, where will the construction materials come from for new wind turbines?

      • Steel and cement? We can and should tax those as well.Cement acounts for 8% of global co2 emissions. Actually quite a bit can be done to reduce emissions from steel and cement. I work with composites and am well aware of how filthy the business of building wind blades is, but at least with ground based activities renewables are an option.
        Taxing aviation works, David O’Leary squeals like a piggy about even small departure taxes.

      • Bryce, re steel there’s va new process for steel production that’s completely CO2 free. Go to SSAB’s website. Volvo, Mercedes and, I think, VW are contracted to buy it.

        Re cement: the trade body (the World Cement Association WCA) has called for government action to incentivise the adoption of tech that can reduce emissions from cement manufacture by circa 70%. Indeed other technologies can make cement products carbon negative, as CO2 injected during manufacture can aid curing.
        Another approach advocates the use of cross laminated timber to build high rise buildings: ‘plyscrapers’. Again, carbon negative.

        The tech is coming to decarbonise trucking, long distance coach and rail with renewable natural gas, batteries and H2. It’s not just Tesla doing stuff. e.g. check out the JCB and Wrightbus websites for info re H2 in commercial vehicles. Shipping’s going this way too, H2, ammonia, sail, CNG.

        There’s loads out there on the web if you’re interested in finding out more. Go to Just Have a Think and edie as starting points. There’s many industries working collaboratively to face the challenge of global warming and huge development work going on to turn things around.

        Unfortunately, Grubbie is correct. If aviation cannot develop tech to go carbon free, it must restrict demand. It has agreed its own 2050 carbon targets, (note: off-setting is a lie that cannot stand up to scrutiny) and must now develop strategies (e.g. frequent flyer taxes, carbon taxes to make low carbon fuels cost effective) to meet that target.

          • Several companies and countries have developed and proven hydrogen based steel making. Krupp in Germany even proved it could modify its existing furnaces to inject hydrogen and eliminate most of the coke thus allowing a phased introduction.

            The Scandinavian countries are more blessed than most. Norway in particular has wind energy and hydro energy which is a perfect combination for renewable power for production of renewable hydrogen.

            Of course what do you do with the renewable energy: Either
            a/ Produce carbon neutral electro fuels like Norsk e-Fuels proposes.
            b/ Decarbonise iron, steal, cement and ammonia production.

            All of this is putting the cart before the horse because
            a/ there isn’t enough renewable energy yet by far.
            b/ there isn’t a hydrogen transport and energy storage pipeline yet.

        • Punitive taxes don’t work well, are historically usually a disaster. They suck up resources from an industry and then they are squandered or used by parasitic elements. They’ll end up in social causes or military adventures rather than being used productively. As a principle any climate related tax applied to aviation should be 100% returned to the industry in the form of incentives such as accelerated depreciation rates and rebates for new more efficient aircraft.

          At the moment the best way forward is to help the industry modernise its fleets. That can yield a 20% reduction in fuel burn per seat (going from ceo to neo as the neo also has more passengers). Sucking taxes out of the industry removes the resources needed for fleet renewal.

          Furthermore aviation is a tiny part of the problem with a 2% contribution for passenger flights.

          The finally there is the opportunity cost and the Parretto Principle (80:20 rule).

          Does one cut of ones nose to spite ones face by making the aviation industry spend 20 billion dollar to remove 10 billion tons of emissions or does one use that same money to generate and store renewables and being BEV and FCEV vehicles into service and perhaps reduce emissions 4 fold greater. (for example).

          I don’t know why we are still arguing over taxes. The ICAO standards are a pretty good roadmap. Fleet renewal and modernisation is a big part. They are built around the principle that if an airline doesn’t operate efficient aircraft it should ‘pay the difference’ by using more SAF.

          • Punitive taxes PLUS a viable path to avoid them works rather well.

    • “Restricting demand is the only way to prevent emissions from actually increasing.”

      This is incorrect. The ICAO regulations, which are achievable and practical are specifically designed to keep emissions at 2019 levels while allowing a 2.5 factor increase in air traffic.

      This will be achieved by A/ progressively more efficient aircraft and B/ a progressive blending of SAF.

      In the narrow body sector the introduction of the MAX and neo will achieve a 15% to 20% decrease in fuel burn over previous generations. There is likely a small improvement of 3-5% still available in the MAX and neo for instance a improved hot section on the PW 1100G and a slight increase in bypass ratio as well as a plastic wing on the aircraft.

      In the Widebody sector B787, A350,B777-9 will achieve a similar improvement of over 15%. After that there is another 10%-15% available from large geared turbofans.

      As SAF fuel is blended in to 50% with a fuel burn reduced down to 70% the emissions will reduced to around 35%-40% allowing a 2.5 fold increase in traffic.

      100% SAF is also possible, especially with so called electro fuels and would make aviation completely carbon neutral. In 30 years there may be major advances in for instance hydrogen production through improved photovoltaics or photochemical water splitting. Nuclear power will hopefully make a come back.

  2. Commercial aviation is quickly becoming the ugly duck created by the human species. Almost impossible – at least very expensive – to decarbonize. Since carbon is not an option, commercial aviation will become a non-option. Sorry, well-heeled and high-heeled carbonizers, vacations in Bali are doomed. And not because of sea level rise.

    • Ah, there we go…the cat is out of the bag!
      The real reason why Greta and her cronies hate aviation is because she perceives it to be a playground of the affluent. She forgets, for example, all those poor laborers from India, The Philippines, etc., who work abroad and fly home once a year to see their families. Or people living in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar who fly to Singapore to have a medical procedure performed. Not to mention all those planes that carry vaccines, PPE and other medicaments to far-flung destinations.

      Where carbonization is concerned, a child tax would be far more effective than an aviation tax 😉

      • – “The real reason why Greta and her cronies hate aviation…”

        “Hate” is a strong word. Do you have a source for that claim? If you’d say “Greta hates climate change”, I might believe you right away. Do I remember right that you have brought her up unprovoked and without clear connection to the subject at hand several times before? In that case she seems to occupy a pretty large area of your mind. Someone could even ask, paraphrasing you, what’s the real reason you hate Greta so much. Not that a young girl seems like a threat to your favourite field, and at the same time is a bigger influencer in the field of aviation than you will ever be? 😉

        – “She forgets, for example, all those poor laborers from India, The Philippines, etc….”

        So it’s “think of the poor – don’t tax the airlines!”? 🙂

        – “Not to mention all those planes that carry vaccines, PPE and other medicaments to far-flung destinations.”

        After first carrying the virus quickly everywhere…

      • Yeah, sure. The true aviation carbonizers are the poor laborers from India and the Philippines, who fly home once a year, to see their families. I hope Greta gets to read this, to start attacking the real culprits of aviation carbon: poor laborers flying home once a year. We need a tax on shamelessness. And invest the prodigious proceedings in greener aviation.

        • Look around you on a typical LCC flight — you won’t see any “well-heeled and high-heeled” types…just Joe and Jane Average.
          The green movement has a hopelessly outdated (1950s?) image of the typical flyer.

    • -Please don’t fall for climate catastrophism. Anything that seeks to use fear or moral shaming is not logical and usually false and manipulation. CO2 has a non linear absorption coefficient that is already saturated in the lower atmosphere. Further increases in CO2 will have minimal effect. The upper atmosphere is not as saturated but the effects are more limited. We have plenty of time.
      -“Decarbonising” aviation is not impossible or terribly difficult. Carbon Neutral “electro fuels” can be created relatively easily and go back to the 1970s. They are only dependant on sufficient carbon free energy being available. Assume 60% efficiency. If the Nuclear industry had not have stalled in the 1990s due to a combination of fear mongering and its own ill advised pathway down large water cooled reactors there would now be no climate crisis. Think about that, no climate crisis.
      -Note also that the production of bioethanol in the USA is sufficient to meet a 50% SAF requirement so long as bioethanol production is redirected from automotive to aviation. (Note Maize bioethanol now has a 4:1 gain in energy)
      -Note that synthetic fuels produce much less soot and with it much less contrails. Potentially 70% less.

      -The co-option of environmental issues by elements of left politics was for the left to have another cudgel to attack the system. Once this is understood it is possible to see why a reasoned optimal approach is not possible by those who have a concern for the environment but do not want to use it to push an agenda. I’m trying to avoid politics but I think the above is fair to say as a fact. Go back to Marcuse to find the connections.

      -We have a new ‘agenda’ which is the huge renewables industry which is now using public relations to ‘influence’ the public the same way the oil industry or any industry does.

      Aviation is naïve and innocent at public relations manipulation.

  3. “As much as the Greta Thunbergs of the world want to move faster and eliminate carbon-based engines entirely, it’s not technologically possible any time soon.”

    This is — of course — 100% correct. However, the green movement typically dismisses this type of realism as “entrenched and blind opposition to change, by corporations and other players with a vested interest in keeping things as they are”…typically accompanied by vague references to petroleum profits, etc. In this particular case, one could expect a concocted argument along the lines of “Mr. Hamilton is paid by the airline industry to maintain the status quo”, or some such baloney.

    For “real change”, no knowledge of technology is required — one only has to “be a believer”. Willingness to invest in green hot air projects is, of course, buoyed by the fact that savings accounts and bonds currently yield no returns, thus prompting investors to go in search of more creative destinations for their spare cash.

    • nothing wrong with pushing for aggressive goals.

      while truly carbon free aircraft engines are not feasible today, industry has shown time and time again that it won’t do anything it isn’t forced to either by government regulation or market pressure.

      why are airplanes quiet today? government regulation. why are airplanes more fuel efficient today? a combination of market pressure and government regulation. why do aircraft engines produce less pollution today? government regulations.

      we can sit on our thumbs while the world burns, or we can work to push industry to develop more environmentally responsible solutions. that likely means a combination of government regulation and market pressure (in this case end users demanding cleaner transport solutions, because the airlines will only ever care about the financial bottom line)

      belittling someone who is trying to change the world for the better because you don’t agree with her politics says more about you than it does about her.

      • Perfectly legitimate to criticize someone who is more than willing to tar others when she doesn’t get her way. That little tantrum that she threw a few years ago at the UN caused some severe tarnishing to her image and credibility. There’s a difference between realistic efforts to “change the world” and an ill-informed, sulking crusade by a spoiled child. COP26 had barely started and she was already calling it a de facto farce…exactly what one would expect from a demagogue.
        If she wants to do her part to change the world, getting an engineering degree would be a lot more effective than indulging in “anti-everything” rants on social media.

      • What do you mean ‘pushing’. Pushing is mostly wrong. In a long engineering career I’ve seen it lead to several messes that have taken longer. I’d say the Boeing MAX MCAS disaster was a case of pushing. You can ask people to come up with something better or another way (as Elon Musk does) but never push.

  4. given that large turbine cores are inherently more efficient than small turbine cores, would there be a net fuel efficiency benefit to have a 2 propulsor aircraft with one being a turbofan with an oversized core and generator and the other being an electric motor driven fan powered by the oversized core/generator on the turbofan? or is the improved SFC of the larger core offset by the losses in the electrical generation and motor system.

    forgive me if I missed this case in one of Bjorn’s excellent e-aircraft articles…

    • It’s worth noting what happens with new technology. Toyota introduced the Prius Hybrid in 1987 over 34 years ago. If we allowed twenty years for the technology to develop till 2007 and if every car from then onwards was a hybrid global emissions would already be 13% less so long as the improved drive train efficiency efficiency were regulated so that it was not used by consumers to upsize cars.

    • You do realise that that is a single engined configuration – one core driving two fans?

      • yes, I do. there are plenty of single engine aircraft in this world.

        frankly the idea of a single pilot is much more frightening to me than a single engine.

  5. I suspect that part of the reason some airlines tout battery powered aircraft (EG EasyJet & Wright Electric) is that it allows them to say they are doing something. Heart Aerospace and Wright make spectacular claims and Wright has made some impressive investments in inverters and motors. Plenty of airlines have rushed into promising to place orders. DHL has placed orders for Eviation Alice. It’s to complicated for the average person and too nuanced and factual for the enviro-fanatic or someone gripped by the angst (usually children) that green activism creates. The main purpose is to provide reassurance and green washing while real solutions are developed.

    However electric powered aircraft do have a practical future in the form of fuel cell powered aircraft. PEM fuel cells have had somewhat of a breakthrough to the point that a fuel cell powered vehicle would use less platinum than a catalytic converter for an engine of the same power.

    A Bjorn Fernhm has pointed out Fuel Cells are too bulky to effectively power the electric ducted fan of an A320 sized aircraft. However if the propulsion is in the form of a prop driven aircraft in the form of an ATR-42/72 or Q400 its works (See Universal Aviation and ZeoAvia) using compressed hydrogen, metal hydride stored hydrogen and latter cryogenic. Attractive is the fuel efficiency of fuel cells of 60% which makes the Fuel Cell Electric flight attractive.

    SAF will work. Apart from waste oils there is the fact that bioethanol can be converted into jet fuel (See LanzaTech) and the US’s rather prodigious production of maize derived bioethanol as an automotive oxygenate fuel additive if converted to jet fuel would meet 40-50% of US needs (US bioethanol production and jet fuel production are both around the 16 billion US gallon mark). Other sources of SAF are biomethane and electro fuels such as Twelve E-jet.

    The reason I think SAF will be the main fuel is that it can be produced in remote regions rich in renewables and transported easily and this will trump the supposed efficiency of electric and hydrogen. Lufthansa has ordered electro-kerosene from “AtmosFair” which uses a combination of wind and solar to extract CO2 direct from the atmosphere, electrolyse water to create hydrogen and from this produce jet fuel. AtmoFair also has a biomethane digestor on site and removes the CO2 from the biomethane both to purify it and feed the production of electro fuel.

    • I don’t know a ton about the inputs to SAF but I’d bet there’s some level of waste that could be used for this if the right incentives were in place to find/reclaim it. If the US stopped using gasoline for cars the remaining ethanol could be diverted to SAF production which should provide a boost if it’s not already included in the articles figures. Given the articles thesis and the nod that the hydrogen planes will be regional ones vs a normal a320/737 size it does support the idea that an all of the above approach is required since likely the tech playing in on all fronts is going to advance over time. Look at how vehicles evolved, 15-20 years ago it seemed like the future was hydrogen, until battery technology advanced and leapfrogged the technical and infrastructure issues of hydrogen. I think the risk for industry is that they bet on the wrong horse and they fade out.

      • SAF can and will come from a multitude of sources and pathways. The use of waste is I think what the industry is focusing on in its start up phases both because it is a cheap resource and also because it avoids the complications of ill-informed criticism that would come from using purpose grown crops.

        I recall reading one ‘Dutch study which calculated that there was sufficient agricultural waste in Holland that when fermented to biomethane its conversion to jet fuel by fischer-tropsch would fuel all of Hollands EU flights.

        As it turns out waste crops, silage (green stalks of maize, wheat, etc used as animal feed) , municipal garbage and food industry waste can be fermented not only to biomethane but alcohols (ethanol, butanol) which are very convenient to convert to jet fuel.

        The CO2 from the fermentation also can be used to make electro-fuels.

        A stale loaf of bread with 8000kj(2.2KW.Hr) will make about 125ml (1/2 cup) of jet fuel at 50% conversion efficiency I’d say most folks food waste for a year would support their annual holiday flight.

        • “I’d say most folks food waste for a year would support their annual holiday flight.”

          True for US consumers.
          Vast wasteage and few hollidays :-))

  6. I would imagine that the market new electric aircraft would be targeting to replace/displace is not the current airplane market – it’s a portion of the auto market. The JADC estimate would, therefore, underestimate the demand by orders of magnitude. They are targeting long car commutes or borderline airplane trips that are currently driven. That’s the hope, at least.

  7. I am heading to a facility tomorrow to test the multi-megawatt Wright motor. Wright agrees with your statement that 19 passenger aircraft are not the target market for electrified flight. The first version of a bae 146 retrofit may likely be a hybrid with 2 electric motors and 2 Alf 502 turbofan engines. This version will have significant fuel savings for short flights. There are battery technologies available today that are lot lithium based that will likely be available in the 10-20 year timeframe to extend the range of hybrid electric and all electric aircraft.

    • The 19 seater IS the target market .
      No way will you get aviation certified batteries in your 146 that can carry 100 pass in the next decade.
      Wishful thinking about battery development won’t fly either

  8. True. The issue of Greta and her not going to school on friday group is: They don’t have a solution. And it reminds me of a quote from Frederick the great about the Emperor Maria- Theresa: The more she cried, the more she took.
    That’s exactly what Greta is doing: Crying. Being angry. Claiming. Accusing.
    Not a single good has left her or her fellows mouth, all they say is that it’s shit and XY has fu…ed it up.

    There’s no sense for solution or even reason in it.

    For now, we have some unsolved problems as mankind:
    1. Energy storage: We can’t effciently save electricity. For now we run pumps to pump water to heights, or try to store it into heavy and horrible expensive and complicated to make batteries.

    2. Though the sun is giving us more energy than we would need as mankind, we are unable to harvest it in a emmission free way.

    3. We have half our population living in poverty or poor life conditions, as soon as they want to get rich, they will use more ressources, that earth doesn’t provide. Land, food, water, materials, etc.

    The technical ideas to get air traffic emission free or run it on electricity are there, but there’s no working solution.
    Batteries can store to little energy, are to heavy and to expensive.
    To manufacture them, ressources and energy must be used, starting of with a Co2 backpack.
    Power needs to be generated.
    If we wanna go for renewable fuels, we need to find a solution for that – or use land to grow bio mass, that is now used to grow food or natural land.

    We need solutions.
    And Greta plus her lot should better start developing them instead of blaming everyone.

    • I don’t dismiss Greta like that.

      Someone needs to get the attention on this and she dos that well.

      Sure, its always the poor engineers that have to figure it out, but that is what makes our existence, figuring things out.

      There is a balance and like Rachael Carson, a voice that penetrates is needed.

      • I believe “Greta” is completely counter productive. Or rather the people exploiting her childhood for purposes of public opinion manipulation are being counter productive. She’s a girl, she’s a child (or rather a teen that looks like a child) and supposedly suffers from Asperger’s (a syndrome which reducers emotional intelligence and judgment of people i.e. if they are lying).

        All of these (sex, youth, a DSM-5 category mental condition) are calculated to prevent us from criticising her message. It’s wrong. They should argue a point not use children. She’s quite a sanctimious and strident child. Completely unconvincing to those that you would want to convince.

    • you do realize she has just barely graduated high school? give her some time to get a college degree so she can do some of the things you are asking for.

      not everybody advocating for change needs to be the person with the technical skills to make it happen.

      • What’s next child savant we must heed? A 11 year old or a 9? What’s the lower limit?

  9. I’m heading to a government-run facility to test the Wright multi-megawatt motor tomorrow. Wright agrees that a 19 passenger electric aircraft is just a small step and not a solution. NASA did recently award about $200MM in contracts for the EPFD program to GE and MagniX. I think it’s safe to say NASA is convinced electric aircraft has a future. There are many current battery technologies that are not Lithium-Ion-based that can provide enough energy storage for a 460-mile flight on a retro-fitted BAE 146. I can’t say specifically, but look around and you will find them. There are 3 on Wikipedia that are viable. I wouldn’t use Wikipedia as a source but just to illustrate people are working on many battery solutions. The current technology may not be capable of 1000 charge cycles but it does have sufficient energy density. There are other ways of storing energy such as phase-change materials and other chemical means if you are talking about the entire grid. I was highly skeptical when I joined Wright but it’s coming sooner than you think.

    • “I think it’s safe to say NASA is convinced electric aircraft has a future.”

      As the article above — and Bjorn’s series — have made clear, there’s a difference between “aircraft” and “commercial aircraft”: the latter category needs to do 4-5 hour flights on a 737/A320/A220/E19o-sized aircraft, with a full passenger compliment.

      As regards the new battery technologies to which you refer, bear in mind that many/most of them have serious flammability risks…and that’s generally not a good match with aviation.

      Please excuse those who aren’t prepared to hold their breath while Wright plays with its Meccano set 😉

    • “As the article above — and Bjorn’s series — have made clear, there’s a difference between “aircraft” and “commercial aircraft”: the latter category needs to do 4-5 hour flights on a 737/A320/A220/E19o-sized aircraft, with a full passenger compliment.”

      Two years ago we thought the same. As it turns out, airlines are very interested in an electric aircraft that has a range of at least 500 nm. 9 of the top 10 world routes are under 500 miles. About 25% of all fuel burned is on single-aisle aircraft on flights of less than 500 nm.

      “As regards the new battery technologies to which you refer, bear in mind that many/most of them have serious flammability risks…and that’s generally not a good match with aviation.”

      True of many but not all. Look for future press releases on aviation batteries.

      “Please excuse those who aren’t prepared to hold their breath while Wright plays with its Meccano set 😉”

      If there is a 1300 W*hr/kg battery on the horizon that is not flammable and can get certified for flight I think it becomes clear that an all-electric “commercial aircraft” is likely in the next 10-15 years. If the current battery energy density doubles from where it is now an 800 nm hybrid “commercial aircraft” will be likely in the next 10-15 years. There are a lot of reasons why it is in our national interest to develop more electric aircraft.

  10. @Bryce, @Sash: Tone down the personal attacks on Greta. You can make your points without descending into the muck.


    • Scott:

      Thank you. I was an engineer and I fully appreciate that full spectrum it takes to get things changed.

      I can remember the day when you saw garbage flying out of car windows constantly.

      Now, almost never.

    • Thank you Scott.

      Progress requires political and social solutions as well as technical ones. But for Greta Thunberg and her generation, we would be hopelessly behind on the first two.

  11. “The start-up claims there will be a battery-powered BAe 146 by 2027 with a 460-mile range. Aviation reporter Jason Rabinowitz had a field day on Twitter with the claim.”

    We’d love to share with Jason what we can about the electric aircraft market. Wright is a group of highly experienced engineers from places like GE, GE Global Research, GE Control systems, BAE Systems, ABB, Bombardier, Harvard University, MIT, Zunum, and NASA. We have worked with people and groups from all over the industry. We believe in the future of electric aircraft. I hope you will too in the years to come.

    • We might be more convinced if we saw actual technical data…ik makes far more of an impression than “we believe” peptalks.

  12. It’s just a Lotus Elise with battery in it, much too expensive, not practical, it won’t amount to anything.

    Electric aircraft won’t look like liquid fueled aircraft and we won’t use them the same way. Hence the arguments around the prevalence of 19 seat aircraft is somewhat bogus.

    They are essentially going to be flying batteries with the batteries being structural. They are going to have incredibly high “fuel fractions”, huge wingspans but be made from essentially EV components with a bit more QA so will actually be pretty cheap to buy and operate.

  13. Sadly RISE is nothing more than the so called Open Rotor of battery power.

    Horrible attempt to self serve GE and Safran by trying to hi-jack improvements to the GTF that are proven to be there.

    Trust us, in 15 years it will be magic, it will be perfect, it will be so fantastic. Shades of someone else we know all too well.

    • Now imagine how much fuel tax the car will be paying, deterring gratuitous long distance travel.
      Also this assuming sardine efficiency. 5 people in a fuel efficient car, 250 miles per gallon per seat.

      • On your first point: All that fuel tax is needed for provision and upkeep of roads — either directly or indirectly. And despite punitive fuel tax, road usage tax and vehicle tax, the roads in The Netherlands (where I live) are full every day — so there’s insignificant deterrent value.

        On your second point: LCCs really do have “sardine efficiency” — check their published load factors. On the other hand, even though the average family sedan *can potentially* carry five people, the reality is that it generally carries only 1 or 2.

        The green movement regularly confuses “possibility” with “reality”.

        • How many more times do you need to be told that most motoring taxes are not spent on road infrastructure? You’re a bight person, do some research. Here in the UK 75% is spent elsewhere.
          Quite clearly fuel taxes are not high enough in the Netherlands if they are having no effect. Or they are already having an effect, or congestion is the major deterent. Here in the UK there is a a noticeable effect when fuel prices rise, the young and old stop driving.
          I’m also old enough to know for certain that people choose much more efficient cars when there are long term fuel price rises.
          It wasn’t me that agreed to reduce commercial aviation emissions far beyond what is technically possible. What’s your idea?

          • As regards deterrent effect: what happens in the UK is evidently not representative of what happens elsewhere — people enjoy the freedom offered by a car, and they’re evidently prepared to pay more for that freedom.

            As regards road taxes: once again, the situation in the UK is not a determinant for the rest of the world. Also, note that I said “directly or indirectly” — roads have to be paid for by someone, don’t they? Motorways cost about €10-15M per km to construct: that’s a lot of money…and it’s infrastructure that’s not needed in the case of aviation. It’s the same reason why rail prices often have difficulty competing with LCCs: part of the rail price is going toward paying for all that extremely expensive physical infrastructure on the ground. And all that concrete and steel has a HUGE environmental footprint…

          • @Bryce: Reasoned reply but straying off topic. Readers, let’s not stray.


          • @Scott
            Je m’excuse!

            So: Electric aircraft only, and maybe some battery tech.
            No: Greta, roads/rails, cement/steel, nuke power, etc.

          • @Grubbie
            Rather vague question that you’ve posed, don’t you think?
            Also rather difficult to answer it here, given the on-topic constraints?
            But, based on how I interpret your question, “a plan” is:
            – Very strong & rapid up-gauging of SAF R&D and production efforts, particularly from waste/algal sources;
            – Increased R&D as regards LH2 aviation, with a clear realization that it’s probably not practical for any aviation larger than regional traffic;
            – Increased research into the practicality/advantages of other forms of “hydrogen fuel”, such as NH3/hydrates.

            If it were up to me, I’d also instigate a campaign to better inform the public that battery-powered propulsion of terrestrial/air vehicles is a “false prophet” with a huge environmental footprint (lithium extraction/processing), nightmare EOL disposal/recycling problem, and horrendously low efficiency. People should also be made better aware of the fact that a battery-powered vehicle produces little-to-no emissions reduction unless charged in an area with a very substantial percentage of sustainable electricity production.

          • OK Bryce, I agree with all of that, other than SAF.
            SAF will inevitably get pushed aside by completing demand for the feedstock, most importantly food and heating.

            But you haven’t come up with any solutions for commercial aviation to drastically reduce its co2 footprint in the incredibly short time period it has promised.
            Off topic, I am also sceptical about electric cars, but again, you haven’t provided any solutions.
            Only reducing demand can even prevent an increase. We can achieve maybe 20% by doing things such as not shipping duty free, air traffic reform and constant enthusiastic implementation of existing technologies, but no one is doing anything other than making promises they can’t deliver and just hoping it will be forgotten about.

  14. “Lockdowns”? Lockdowns were imposed (speciously) to halt the spread of a relatively harmless virus. Our industry was closed down over night. Who thought that could happen? Yes, your freedoms were crushed, your business, a lifetimes work destroyed but – they were a temporary but necessary measure we told. Well, as we all know there is nothing more permanent than a temporary government measure and so it has come to pass with Australian states the first to ratify these “temporary measures” into permanent law and planning not two, not three but six vaccinations for each citizen. As the old English saying goes: “You can take the Australian out of prison but you can never take the prison out of the Australian”. UK PM Johnson said the concept of what constitutes “full vaccination” will need to be adjusted. He now states that to be considered “fully vaccinated” will now require not one but three doses. The fact that the two previous “vaccinations” failed confirms that they were not by definition vaccinations.

    And what was it that enthusiastic WEC member, HRH Prince Charles and future King of England opined in his speech at the G7 this summer: “The fight against this terrible pandemic provides, if ever one was needed, a crystal clear example of the scale and sheer speed at which the global community can tackle crises when we combine political will with business ingenuity and public mobilization.” Prince Charles told his fellow leaders. “Ladies and gentlemen, we are doing it for the pandemic, so if you don’t mind me saying so, we must also do it for the planet.” This puppet says nothing that isn’t written down for him.

    In India they are proposing “lockdowns” to fight the smog. Stare Decisis. Precedents have been set. The people have acquiesced.

    The author articulate the gaslighting that these machines represent. These infantalised scaled up toys the author talked about could only get the massive funds they have in what Ludwig von Mises defined as a “Crack-up Boom”. Last week those same governments, the ones who can’t issue an honest currency amongst them, told us they were going to terraform our planet to precisely 1.5c for the centuries to come. Another madman once told us about a similar 1,000 Reich. They, the lockdowns, the demonisation of air-travel, the incoming CDC’s are all linked, all manifestations of the same phenomenon. Join the dots. Take what they are saying literally; the world’s governments have run out of other peoples money and they cannot pay back their debts, their monetary system has failed and they know it but they mean to retain control in the same atavistic way they always have in the past. We are in the end game. From here it gets worse. And much, much darker. Stare Decisis.

  15. I would suggest that people take a bit closer look to the actual plans for the sub-20 seat target market segment by the handful of electric aircraft startups.

    The Nordic countries — particularly Norway with its plethora of sub-100 nm city pair flights, heavily subsidized (and the country is almost 100% hydro powered), have committed to domestic carbon neutral air travel.

    Looking at Sweden-based Heart Aerospace, their ES-19 certainly seems to have a realistic plan even though the certification & EIS timeline is a bit aggressive/optimistic in my opinion. However, they have the support of the Nordic countries and the investment help (and orders) of United/Mesa. Mesa at one time had a +100 fleet of 19-seaters flying sub-200 nm legs.

    So it is realistic to anticipate that there will be sub-20 seat commercial flights serving sub-500 nm city pairs before the end of the decade.

    • Sure.
      But the sub-20 seat segment is a tiny fraction of worldwide aviation. And nobody has *realistic* plans to extend the tech to battery-powered “regular” single-aisle aircraft carrying 100-200 passengers on flights above an hour…bearing in mind the necessary 30-45 min. mandatory “fuel” reserves and the slow death of batteries as a function of time. The 500nm figure referred to above by one commenter is woefully inadequate for most commercial routes.

      • The potential *realistic* tech is H2, but that is another matter.

        Regarding battery powered aircraft, yes, it is currently “tiny” but there is significant opportunities for growth. The low projected seat mile costs of the electric sub-20 seaters (for now) have an opportunity to significantly grow the market for point-to-point and hub feed domestic traffic… even now with the “old” battery technology that is being proposed for aircraft certification.

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