By Scott Hamilton and Bjorn Fehrm
Jan. 18, 2024, © Leeham News: Twenty twenty four is 10 years after the Sustainable Aircraft discussions started when Airbus flew its battery-powered E-Fan before the world's OEMs and press in July 2014 at the Farnborough Air Show.
The time that has passed is longer than the normal development time for a new aircraft, and what have the hundreds of projects that started in the wake of the E-Fan achieved? We have one new two-seat trainer, the Pipistrel Velis Electro, in production, but not much else.
There has been no lack of electric airplane project announcements, one more fanciful than the other. Operational ranges and economics that will enable the replacement of the typical regional turboprops have been presented, but the two functional demonstrators we have in the air that go beyond nine seats are hydrogen fuel cell aircraft, not battery-electric or hybrid electric.
We have hybrid five and nine-seat commuters flying in prototypes, and a couple of hybrids will start production during the year. These will reach the market in 2025 or 2026, but how operationally viable these is still not clear. But beyond nine seats, there are only plans, no projects that plan to fly prototypes this year or next.
The one-battery electric project, Eviation Alice, flew once, then packed up, declaring we needed better batteries. It's clear the job of exchanging the hydrocarbon combustion engine for aircraft is much harder than thought. The problem is that aircraft are supposed to fly for hours, and the energy density of normal fuel is still 50 times higher than for batteries.