Electric airplanes will be friendlier to our environment (and your wallet too).

By Brielle Elise, on Trippy Tech, Medium.com, April 2017

I was pretty surprised that my last round trip flight from San Francisco to Taipei was cheaper than a one way ticket from San Francisco to Newark. It wasn’t seasonality that dictated the stark price differential either; over and over again I have found international roundtrip flights to be anywhere from half to three-quarters the price of domestic flights. Likewise, during the 2016 holiday season, I experienced 3 cancellations at Chicago O’Hare which greatly forestalled me. What a huge waste of time these delays cause us! What should have been a 4-hour flight amounted to the same time spent flying to an overseas destination. And the more I travel, the more I realize that America’s decrepit airports and second-rate airlines are the epitome of inefficiency. But is that all about to change?

The clean, affordable, and swift solution to both domestic and international travel is right around the corner — hybrid and electric aviation. In exploring this new technology, we will examine why electric aviation will be better for your bottom line and how it can broaden your travel opportunities. Then we will look into the current toll aviation takes on our environment and how electronic aviation will change that. Finally, we will discover the leaders pioneering these new technologies and the design techniques they employ.

So what is electric or hybrid aviation?

Electric aircrafts are powered by electric or hybrid motors by employing hybrid or turboelectric propulsion. Alternative automotive technologies have created a baseline for the next advances in aviation technology. Much like their car counterparts, these vehicles can run on purely electric or hybrid design; reducing energy consumption, emissions, and noise. The advent of these new technologies will significantly shape the future of air travel.

Electric aviation will translate to cost savings and more travel.

Imagine having the opportunity to travel more often and explore new destinations around the world that would have otherwise been unreachable due to cost, time, and distance. Advancements in aviation technology will equate to more travel options and savings for the consumer. The onset of hybrid air fleets will generate new routes and cut down on fares and travel time. We are not just talking about small price cuts either, airfare is estimated to reduce as much as 50 to 80% using this cleaner technology! A new flying era will bring with it a slew of players who find opportunity where the laggards in the industry do not. Smaller, newer airlines with electric fleets will become the Southwests and Ryan Airs of the world. They will take advantage of the floundering airline system, purchasing terminal access in smaller, underutilized airports around America. Their lower or negligible fuel costs will allow them to pass the savings onto the consumer. Imagine flying around the country for the cost of a bus ticket today. This will become possible in the decades to come. But it doesn’t stop at small domestic travel, larger electric jumbo jets will also bring new international fast and affordable travel opportunity.

The increased demand will also present an opportunity to bolster job creation in the industry. Who knows, perhaps we’ll see a resurgence of happy, well-paid pilots as we did in the good old days. The escalating demand will also necessitate infrastructure upgrades, so perhaps America’s airports will experience a much needed face lift.

Cleaner flights, cleaner air… significantly cleaner air.

Did you know that the carbon impression left on the planet by all the plastic bags you’ve consume and discarded in your lifetime still does not equate to the impact of all those trips you took to Boca Raton? Air travel is considered to be an environmentally destructive industry with regards to its lasting mark on the planet. While we can literally see the aftermath of our plastic bags, the consequences of our air travel are essentially “invisible” in the air we breath. Our increasing demand for travel is directly contributing to our wounded ozone. Now more than ever, airlines and governmental agencies need to enact on proper measures to curb aircraft emissions. In 2013, it was reported that air travel contributed to 700 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (National Geographic). The U.S. is mainly responsible for this output too. In 2015, it was estimated that the U.S. travel sector alone contributed to roughly 11% of greenhouse gas emissions and 29% of all aircraft emissions worldwide (New York Times).

Hybrid and electric technologies will become essential tools to aid in carbon offset with the following impact:

GONZALEZ, CARLOS. “The Future of Electric Hybrid Aviation.”

Our demand for flying is at an all time high (and we’re not just talking travel).

GONZALEZ, CARLOS. “The Future of Electric Hybrid Aviation.”

Despite, our best carbon conscious efforts, our demand to travel is at an all-time high. According to PwC’s latest report on the state of the airline industry, air travel demand is predicted to double by 2035 and triple by 2050 according to the International Council on Clean Transportation. Why? One of the predominant causes is the rise of the middle-class economy and increasing demand to continue to travel to foreign countries. But it isn’t our travel demand alone that has caused this flux, three-quarters can be attributed to our globalized economy. For example, 98% of all the clothes imported to the United States come from abroad and the majority of those goods are imported via air travel.

Planes compared to cargo ships create:

GONZALEZ, CARLOS. “The Future of Electric Hybrid Aviation.”

The Leaders of Alternative Aviation

In recent years, NASA and Airbus have been the leaders in piloting clean air aviation. NASA’s Advanced Air Transport Technology project blends the creation of new aircraft design with advanced propulsion systems engineering. The integrated designs will incorporate new battery technologies with more efficient engines for electromagnetic motors and alternative, lighter weight electronics. The aircraft’s power system can either generate electricity or aid in the generation of electricity using a turbine engine. The engines facilitate the conversion of electricity into force by means of fans disseminated throughout the aircraft. The first generation of X-planes will hold a modest number of passengers and possess smaller, more efficient wings, electrically powered propellers, and double the lift power of a traditional aircraft (that’s more lift power, while traveling at lower speeds). Larger aircraft, of the 737 kind, will incorporate electrically driven propulsion systems.

In 2015, Airbus launched their first fully electric plane, capable of running 45 minutes to an hour on a single charge and reaching speeds of 220 km/h. The system’s motors are powered by lithium ion batteries. Test plans for Airbus, in conjunction with Rolls-Royce, will expand to utilize superconductivity to power their planes. Defined as the property of zero electrical resistance at very low absolute temperatures, superconductivity will power a new generation of efficient flying. In this method, cryogenic fluids, like hydrogen or liquid helium, can be used to cool systems and allow for smaller, lighter components in their application. (GONZALEZ C. Machine Design).

In 2015 Airbus successfully flew a small test planes similar to the one pictured across the English Channel.

Newcomers are also stepping up to the bat. The startup Zunum Aero, backed by Boeing and JetBlue, is speculating that their first flight will take off as early as 2020. The good news for the environment is that one of the largest contributors to carbon emissions will steadily lower as these new vehicles take flight.