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Are electric aircrafts the future?

On 28th May 2020, a modified electric-powered Cessna Caravan 208B with a seating capacity of nine passengers and an electric motor manufactured by MagniX soared above Grand County International Airport, the USA for 30 minutes. It became the biggest commercial plane ever flown powered by electricity alone.

The fuel cost of flying this eCaravan was only $6, which is about $300 less than what it would have taken if the conventional aviation fuel were to be used!

However, we are still very far from flying large 200-300 seater aircrafts using electric batteries. It will take at least 30-40 years before we see a battery-powered, large aircraft crisscross continents.

Some of the important reasons are as follows:

  1. Energy density: Energy density is defined as watt-hours per kilogram. A current lithium-ion battery’s energy density might reach 250 Wh per kg, while the energy density of jet fuel is roughly 12,000 Wh per kg.

  2. Shape, size, and weight of the battery: Batteries are of different shapes and sizes and occupy larger space in the aircraft whereas liquid fuel can easily rest inside the wings. In order to maintain the current range of large aircrafts, they would need batteries, which would be weighing 30 times more than the current fuel intake. This makes the usage of batteries in long haul flights almost impossible. Along with that, the weight of the batteries remain constant, even after they are dead, whereas when fuel burns in a conventional aircraft, it gets lighter which in turn consumes less fuel.

EasyJet has partnered with aviation start-up Wright Electric to design and develop a 180-seater fully electric Jet that can fly 500 km. If successful, it could enter into commercial service by 2030.

Currently, the narrow-body aircrafts that fly short-haul routes of up to 1500 km constitute about one-third of aviation emission globally. So if the electric planes gradually take over at-least the short-haul flights, it would surely impact the global environment positively.

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