First Hybrid Electric-Powered Airliner Could Fly by 2020
If all goes well, sometime in 2020, a BAe 146 jetliner will lift off a runway in Europe with one of its four engines a two megawatt electric fanjet, powered by a gas turbine. it will be, at the time, the largest electric jet engine in the world and some ten times more powerful than anything today.
If that test, and subsequent ones, are successful, we could see the first fully hybrid-electric commercial airliners operating by 2030, producing dramatically fewer climate altering emissions and saving vast amounts of fuel.
Back in 2013, Airbus debuted at the Paris Air Show, its eFan electric prototype, a neat little two-seater powered by a pair of ducted fan engines. That aircraft demonstrated the feasibility of electric flight, even subsequently crossing the English Channel in 2015.
According to Airbus CTO Paul Eremenko, the advent of electric commercial airlines faces three challenges: electric motors with 10X the power density but at the same weight as today's jet engines, certification of the engine, and sufficient operator interest to make it cost effective to develop the planes. Of course, battery density and cycle life has to also dramatically improve, but interestingly, this appears to be less of a concern to Eremenko, suggesting he and is team are comfortable with the current rate of battery improvement progress.
While the "Big Boys" - including Boeing - are focused on exploring the viability of large electric airliners, the smaller training market is moving ahead nicely with Norwegian airport operator Avinor and Norges Luftsportforbund placing their first order to Pipistrel Alpha Electro G2 electric two-place airplane with goal for Norway to "become the first country in which electric flights have a significant market share."
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