Wed 17 Oct 2018 – As part of efforts to encourage airlines to invest in electric technology and speed up the arrival of zero-emissions flights, Heathrow Airport has announced it will offer free landing charges for a year to the first electric or electric-hybrid commercial flight into the airport and then entering regular service. Heathrow estimates at current price levels, the prize would be worth nearly £1 million ($1.3m) to the operator. As the likelihood of a passenger electric-hybrid aircraft entering service is over a decade away, the incentive is largely symbolic for now but the airport hopes the gesture will encourage innovators. It estimates more than 100 electric aircraft projects are underway across the world. With global air passenger traffic expected to double by 2035, the prospect of much quieter, cleaner and more efficient electric aircraft can play a critical role in driving a sustainable future for the aviation sector, it adds.
“Heathrow has long been a leader in sustainable aviation. We championed carbon neutral growth in global aviation, which will come into effect in 2020. The next frontier is zero carbon flying, and I hope this prize will help make it a reality at Heathrow by 2030,” said the airport’s CEO, John Holland-Kaye. He added the incentive would be open to all airlines operating at Heathrow both now and in the future.
Last year, low-cost carrier easyJet announced a collaboration with US start-up electric aircraft manufacturer Wright Electric, which is developing an all-electric passenger aircraft with a range of 540 kilometres (see article). According to the airline, this would cover 20% of its routes, such as London to Paris, Amsterdam or Belfast. A prototype unveiled by Wright includes a distributed electric propulsion system, swappable battery packs and high aspect ratio wings for energy efficient flight. The company believes it will be able to utilise new energy storage chemistries that are substantially lighter than today’s commercial batteries.
Commenting on the Heathrow announcement, easyJet CEO Johan Lundgren said: “It is clear Heathrow shares easyJet’s ambition for a more sustainable aviation industry. We support airports who are encouraging airlines to operate the most sustainable aircraft and welcome this initiative. We firmly believe it is not if but when electric commercial aircraft become a reality.”
Airbus, Siemens and Rolls-Royce are working together on the E-Fan X, a demonstrator version of a hybrid-electric passenger plane based on a 100-seat Bae146, which is scheduled to make its maiden flight in 2020. The partners plan to replace one of the test aircraft’s four jet turbines with a 2MW electric propulsion system.
Commending the Heathrow initiative, Airbus Chief Technology Officer Grazia Vittadini said: “With air traffic projected to double every 15 years, it is our duty as an industry to find solutions that ensure sustainable growth with minimal environmental impact. At Airbus, this is our driving force for developing electric and hybrid-electric propulsion technologies.”
Another hybrid-electric passenger aircraft venture by US-based Zunum Aero is backed by Boeing HorizonX and JetBlue Technology Ventures (see article). It is developing a 12-seat commercial aircraft capable of flying 700 miles that it hopes to have operational by 2022, with a larger 50-seater version with a 1,000-mile range available by the end of the next decade. Last week, the company announced it had selected Safran Helicopter Engines to provide a new-generation engine turbine to power Zunum’s ZA10 electrical generator. Ground and flight testing of the aircraft is scheduled for 2019.
Rather than serving large airports, Zunum says the potential for its smaller aircraft lies in revolutionising the regional airline market and bringing cheaper, faster and more environmentally-friendly passenger transport to small, regional airports.
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