Once considered impossible or at least highly impractical, several companies are on the verge of developing viable passenger aircraft that run on batteries. Zunum Aero, which has received investments from Boeing and JetBlue, plans on building a fleet of electric planes holding 10 to 15 passengers with a range of 700 miles. These aircraft are ideal for serving as a regional shuttle, and Zunum wants to operate out of underutilized airports to make regional commuting more efficient. Meanwhile, Wright Electric is working on designing battery-powered aircraft that can carry 150 people 300 miles, which can cover flights between London and Paris.
The largest hurdle these startups and incumbents like Boeing and Airbus must overcome is battery technology. Batteries are improving incrementally, but there is no guarantee that the next big leap in efficiency will arrive in time for these firms to meet expectations. Should the batteries fail to meet specifications, Zunum and Wright will likely have to rely on hybrid energy sources to complete their designs. Either way, it will take time before electric planes can handle large flights.
If battery technology is advanced enough, regional electric aircraft and their more powerful successors will offer important benefits. Currently, the entire airline industry produces as many emissions as Germany, meaning that a move away from fossil fuels will greatly assist environmental efforts. Providing more options for efficient regional travel will make commuting easier, especially for business trips. Additionally, electric plans make significantly less noise, which those living near airports will appreciate. While battery-powered passenger aircraft are not likely to completely disrupt existing aircraft, they provide promising benefits that widen the possibilities for travel.
For more, visit MIT Technology Review.