Published 13/06/2022 by Vincent Kermarec

Electric planes, hydrogen planes: the planes of the future

100% electric aircraft

Today, air transport accounts for 2.4% of total global CO2 emissions and just under 12% of the greenhouse gases emitted by the transport sector. This figure is admittedly lower than for road vehicles (18.5%) or even digital technology (4%), but it must nevertheless be reduced in the context of ecological transition.
Aviation has often been singled out for criticism, and in recent months many critics have gone so far as to coin a neologism: "flygskam", meaning the shame of flying.
However, aware of the need to accelerate the ecological transition in view of the future increase in passenger numbers, particularly in Asia, the airline sector is one of the transport players that has shown itself to be most concerned by the need to find alternatives to the fossil fuels used today.
In the following article, you will find some examples of hybrid and electric aircraft that represent the future of transport: more eco-responsible and better adapted to the needs of tomorrow's world.

Alice by Eviation Aircraft: "the Tesla of the air"

A project launched in 2015 by the startup Eviation Aircraft, the "Alice" aircraft, presented for the first time at the 2019 Paris Air Show, is a prototype of an exclusively electric 9-seater aircraft that could quickly become an alternative for medium-sized journeys of 500 to 1,000 km (e.g. Paris-Toulouse). A godsend for poorly served secondary towns. The Israeli company's stated objective: "To change the way people travel".

The result of research by a wide range of partners including Israel, Italy, Singapore, Germany, South Korea, Australia, the United States and... France (the aircraft's hull is manufactured by Multiplast, a company based in Vannes! "This is a historic step in the aeronautical industry. The introduction of Alice is the advent of a whole new generation of aircraft for the first time in 50 years, and it is only the beginning of a promising future for electric aviation and sustainable transport," says Eviation Aircraft CEO Omer Bar-Yohay.

Twelve metres long, the aircraft is made of carbon fibre and has three propellers to optimise its performance while consuming as little energy as possible. Alice is thus capable of accommodating 9 passengers plus a pilot and flying for 1000 km with an autonomy of about 2h45 and a cruising speed of 520 km/h.

The aircraft's flight operating costs are expected to be minimal: $0.10 per mile (1.6 km), compared with about $2 for the Cessna Citation Mustang. This would allow air travel at the price of a train ticket.

Already available for pre-sale, the aircraft is expected to be officially marketed by 2022, once the tests allowing it to receive certification from the US and European authorities have been completed.

Safran: electric aircraft for "smart jumps" between outlying cities

Connecting peripheral cities directly to each other, without having to multiply connections, is one of the challenges of air travel today. OpenFly was born in 2017 partly out of this observation.

The Safran group came to the same conclusion, analysing that the obstacles that currently prevent the development of air travel on these "commuter" routes could be removed by the arrival of hybrid and electric technology.

Less CO2 emissions, less noise: Safran is developing aircraft with a dozen seats that incorporate electricity in the propulsion system, which will allow for 100% electric or hybrid flights, depending on the distance. Ideal for commuter and regional flights, not exceeding a distance of 500 km. Such aircraft could see the light of day after 2025.

Safran could soon be positioning itself on commuter and regional flights, not exceeding a distance of 500 km.

Wright Electric: the ambition of a 100% electric aircraft for over 100 passengers

Wright Electric is not talking about a hybrid aircraft, but a 100% electric one. And it is very ambitious because it wants to tackle the commercial aviation market directly, not just the business aviation market.

Backed by EasyJet, the startup plans to create a short- to medium-range transport, but this time with the capacity to carry between 120 and 220 passengers. Wright Electric is the only company on this list that does not focus primarily on light aviation aircraft.

The company did not give an estimate of the speed of its aircraft, but expects a range of 550 kilometres.

Compared to other companies, Wright Electric has a long way to go, as its aircraft are not expected to be in service until 2027. But it is its ultimate goal that may impress: "within 20 years, all short-haul flights will have zero CO2 emissions.

The X-57 Maxwell, NASA's electric aircraft

Last November, the US Aeronautics and Space Agency presented the X-57 Maxwell, a four-seat electric aircraft adapted from the Italian Tecnam P2006T.

The aircraft is a small four-seat propeller-driven aircraft, whose two internal combustion engines have been replaced by 14 electric motors and lithium-ion batteries.

In its final version, the aircraft will weigh 1360 kilos according to NASA and will be able to fly up to an altitude of approximately 4270 metres. With a cruising speed of 276 km/h, it would have a range of about 160 kilometres, a fairly short distance compared to the projects mentioned above. For the time being, this aircraft is therefore intended more for very short regional journeys, in the spirit of an "air taxi" that will allow easy access to city centres.

Reconditioned models of existing appliances

Ampaire: a Cessna 337 transformed into a hybrid aircraft

Rather than recreate a new electric aircraft from scratch, the American start-up Ampaire had the idea of transforming existing aircraft into hybrid aircraft. This technology consists of combining existing internal combustion engines with an electric motor. It would already reduce CO2 emissions from aircraft by 30%.

Ampaire has succeeded in modifying a Cessna 337 Skymaster into a hybrid aircraft. The aircraft flew for the first time last June and the company plans to start marketing it in 2021.

The twin-engine Ampaire 337 is the largest capacity hybrid-electric aircraft ever flown. It not only saves CO2 emissions but also reduces fuel costs and makes it possible to fly more quietly. The aircraft could reduce fuel costs by 90% and maintenance costs by 50%.

Technically, the aircraft combines a conventional combustion engine in the nose and an electric motor in the tail, powered by lightweight batteries. The two motors work together to optimise the aircraft's power as it flies.

Seven to nine passengers will be able to board the aircraft, which is currently capable of covering distances of 100 miles (160 km).

MagniX.aero: transforming existing aircraft into electric aircraft

MagniX.aero specialises in transforming existing aircraft into 100% electric aircraft, similar to what Ampaire can do with its modified Cessna 337. Based in Seattle, the company has already succeeded in equipping a Cessna 206 with its Magni250 electric motor, which has a power output of 375 hp.

According to MagniX, its electrical system will be sold at the same price as the engines it will replace, with operating costs no more than 40%-60% of the operating costs of the current engines.

Important fact, in December 2019, in collaboration with the Canadian company Harbour Air, the company made aviation history by achieving the world's first commercial electric aircraft flight. The aircraft in question is a heavily modified and re-engined single-engine De Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver seaplane, which flew in the vicinity of Vancouver for about 20 minutes.

On 28 May 2020, a fully re-engined Cessna Caravan took off from Seattle for the first time! A day that will undoubtedly be considered a major date in aviation history in the future.

"One small step for man..."

The Magni500 engine that powers the aircraft is equivalent to 750 horsepower, which is 300 more than the aircraft's original internal combustion engine. The aircraft's range is currently 175 kilometres, which means that it is currently intended for short-haul flights.

Hybrid aircraft

Boeing, JetBlue and Zunum Aero to fly a hybrid aircraft in 2022

In partnership with the start-up Zunum Aero and the airline JetBlue Airways, the American aircraft manufacturer Boeing has entered the clean aviation race and is currently developing a hybrid-powered aircraft project for regional routes. A model of aircraft that should make it possible to "travel faster, cheaper and connect thousands of communities.

It should be able to carry 12 passengers over short and medium-haul distances, with the promise of 80% lower CO2 emissions than planes running on fuel alone. It has a claimed speed of 550 km/h and a range of up to 1,100 kilometres. It is scheduled to be launched in 2022, while a jet capable of carrying around 50 passengers is planned for 2030.

VoltAero: modular hybrid electric aircraft for pilot training

VoltAero is a Franco-European aeronautical project whose ambition is to develop a family of modular hybrid electric aircraft, ranging from four to nine seats, intended for initial pilot training, and also for worldwide marketing of this range in general aviation.

It represents the first step in the development of electric/hybrid propulsion in the long term for general and civil aviation and aims to provide innovative, sustainable and competitive solutions to the current and future challenges of the aviation industry. On the environmental level of course, with the control and reduction of CO2 emissions, but also on the societal level with the reduction of noise pollution and the contribution to pilot training on new generation aircraft.

The first VoltAero aircraft are expected to be released in 2022 before global commercialisation in 2024.

An alternative: hydrogen