This week’s Paris Air Show, much like the Geneva Motor Show that ran in March of this year, is proving to a massive game changer for the aviation industry as aircraft makers from startups to aerospace giants embrace electrification.
Aviation is a massive user of fossil fuels and as the call for action to drastically reduce carbon emissions increases in volume across the globe, the industry knows that change must be made.
As the Centre for Aviation noted earlier this month, although aviation is a relatively small contributor to global transport emissions it is not showing signs of slowing down, and would in fact be listed in the top 10 of global emitters if it were a country.
From Ampaire to Airbus, Eviation to Rolls Royce and United Technologies, small time developers with big vision and major industry stakeholders with progressive outlooks presented a range of announcements and debuts at this year’s Paris Air Show that are promising in the race to the bottom of aviation-related emissions.
Eviation announces launch partner
Top of the list was the news that Israeli startup Eviation, which wants to up-end the regional aviation industry with its completely new 9 seater “Alice” electric medium haul plane, has struck a multi-million deal to launch commercial flights with US regional airline Cape Air.
Debuting the Eviation Alice at the Paris Air Show, CEO Omer Bar-Yohay told press conference attendees that, “Cape Air … is going to be the first clientof the eviation Alice and will usher in a double digit size fleet of Alice’s to operation within the next five years.”
With a flight range of around 1000 kilometres, we have previously reported on Eviation Alice’s potential for regional Australia, as well as Eviation’s work with Australian electric flight propulsion developer magniX.
Its new deal with Cape Air, which carries 500,000 passengers a year and is one of the USA’s largest regional airlines, involves the purchase of a “double digit” number of aircraft that are valued at $US 4 million each.
With testing and certification already underway and expected to be completed by late 2021, Bar-Yohay said: “This aircraft is not some future maybe. It is there, ready and waiting.”
Ampaire takes order for 50 converted electric planes
Fellow aviation startup Ampaire, which is working on conversion of existing aircraft such as the Cessna 337 that recently made its maiden flight in California, also made an announcement about a significant deal, this time with Personal Airline Exchange.
Speaking with Youtube channel Starburst Contact, Ampaire product manager Brice Nzeukou said that the deal with the charter flight operator includes 50 electric aircraft.
“We are really excited to announce that Ampaire and Personal Airline Exchange are announcing an order of 50 electric aircraft,” Nzeukou said.
Airbus planning autonomous and hybrid flight
While fully electric propulsion is not quite ready for long-haul flight, the big players in the aviation world are also taking heed of the call to reduce emissions.
Three French aviation giants Airbus, aviation industry conglomerate Daher and rocket engine maker Safran announced they will team up to develop EcoPulse, a wing-mounted distributed hybrid-propulsion system.
With backing from the French Civil Aviation Research Council and support from French DGAC (Civil Aviation Authority), the aims of the hybrid propulsion system are not only to reduce emissions but also aircraft noise pollution.
“We are determined to make [reduced environmental impact of aircraft] a distinctive feature of the French aircraft industry,” said Daher’s senior VP of aerospace and defence Nicolas Orance.
While still in the early stages of development, a small model of the distributed hybrid propulsion system was on display at the Paris Air Show this week featuring three electric motors and propellors spaced evenly along each wing.
In addition to news on hybrid propulsion tech, chief commercial officer Christian Scherer told a press conference on Monday at the Paris show that Airbus already has tech for autonomous flight.
Speaking to the media, Scherer said however that its timeline for introduction is a matter for lawmakers – in addition to passenger acceptance of the technology.
“When can we introduce it in large commercial aircraft? That is a matter we are discussing with regulators and customers, but technology-wise, we don’t see a hurdle,” Scherer said.
Jet engine rivals United Technologies and Rolls Royce take stock
Not to be left behind, aviation engine leaders in the US and Britain are also making plans to develop hybrid electric flight systems.
UK-based Rolls Royce announced it has acquired the electric flight division of Siemens, known as Siemens eAircraft.
The two have already started collaboration with French Airbus to develop another hybrid-electric propulsion system dubbed E-Fan X that is said to be big enough to power a large jet plane.
The new acquisition will further Rolls-Royce – which grew from of its luxury car brand to become one of the world’s largest makers of airline jet engines – in its mission to electrify flight.
“We have already made significant strides in realizing our strategy of ‘championing electrification’ and this move will accelerate our ambitions in aerospace by adding vital skills and technology to our portfolio,” Rob Watson, director of Rolls-Royce Electrical, said.
“It brings us increased scale and additional expertise as we develop a product range of hybrid power and propulsion systems.”
Meanwhile, aerospace rival United Technologies, which is set to merge with defence and electronics major Raytheon, also announced a plan to develop hybrid-electric flight, although this time in response to the potential disruption of regional flight.
Dubbed Project 804, United Technologies wants to start hybrid-electric flight by 2030, developing a turboprop system that will be ideal for shorter haul flights between regional airports.
“In the case of Project 804 we’re basically taking a commuter regional turboprop airplane and we’re making it such that during take-off and climb, about half the energy is supplied electrically and about half of the supply is maintained by the engine,” United Technologies CTO Paul Eremenko said.
While the ambitions for reducing fuel use do not sound massive – according to a report from CNBC, Eremenko said that the United Technologies hybrid-electric turboprop expects to save 30% of fuel – Eremenko said that such a cut would be “huge in an industry trying to shave 1 or 2%.”