What does the first cross channel electric plane mean for the energy world?

15 July 2015

Two electric planes have successfully flown across the English Channel for the first time in history in a breakthrough which could have a significant impact on the way we view energy consumption in the future. 

Why does this matter?

The record is the latest development for the use of electrical batteries in aviation; in 2014, a battery-powered two-seater aircraft flew non-stop for 300 miles across the French Alps. 

The continued development of the technology is predicted to revolutionise the airline industry and, at the current pace, it is predicted that commuter flights will be battery powered by 2035. Indeed, an all-electrical plane would make flights cheaper for consumers, freeing airlines from fuel costs, but also significantly improve the sustainability of air travel. At present, the industry produces 705 million tonnes in C02 each year.

Who broke the record?

While aviation giant Airbus was initially predicted to achieve the goal of flying across the Channel in an electric plane, French pilot Hugues Duval may have beaten the company with an earlier, separate attempt in a one-seater aircraft. 

Duval flew from Calais to England and back in a Cri Cri plane on July 10, hours before an Airbus test pilot, Didier Esteyne flew an E-Fan 2.0 in the opposite direction. 

However, Airbus have since argued that, as Duval’s plane needed help getting airborne and took off while attached to a larger plane, 'it would not count' as a world-record event. Regardless of who was the first to complete the achievement, this is a momentous event for the energy world and coul well revolutionise the air industry. 

A growing need for sustainable flights

Not only are electric planes a low-emission alternative to fuel-consuming alternatives, many are cost-effective too. At just 500kg, the E-Fan, for example, is so light that it only costs £10 an hour to run. In contrast, a petrol-powered plane of a similar size would cost £35 an hour. 

With the European Union looking to reduce C02 emissions by 75% per passenger kilometre by 2050, these cross channel flights certainly indicate that there could be exciting opportunities ahead for energy-conscious airliners.

The future of electric aircraft

Airbus is currently working on a 90-seat electric-powered hybrid airliner that could be ready for flight in by 2030. Airliners could save a considerable amount of money with a high-powered and efficient electric motor.

However, with the E-Fan’s 120-cell lithium polymer battery  lasting just one hour, there is still some way to go before electric planes are ready to complete long distance flights with a higher number of passengers. 

Although it may be years before technology allows long-haul electricity powered flights, aviation experts believe that small planes such as the E-Fan could prove popular with pilots in training. 

Dr Detleft Muller-Wiesner, head of aircraft at Airbus says: “There is really a market, especially for basic pilot training because for the first 20 hours of the curriculum what you are doing is just take off, touch down, turn around and do it again, and this is ideal for that.”

The future of energy consumption

While long-haul battery powered flights may still be some years away, the continued advancement of the technology offers an insight into the future of the energy market.  Over the past decade, electric batteries have demonstrated the potential to disrupt both the air and vehicle industry. As the technology develops, it will be interesting to see how it may impact the business energy market. 


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