What Are the Benefits of Electric Aircraft?
Aviation pioneers dreamed about the day we would experience electric flight, and long before the Wright brothers took to the sky in 1903, innovators were already experimenting with batteries and electric motors to power airships and balloons. In 1883, French military engineers Charles Renard and Arthur Constantin Krebs used batteries and electric motors to power “La France,” a steerable, hydrogen-filled airship. However, it was not until decades later that battery technology became advanced enough to power full-sized aircraft.
When longer-lasting nickel-cadmium (NiCad) batteries were invented in the 1970s, the first manned aircraft with an electric motor took flight, but only for about 10 minutes. By the 1980s, energy-dense lithium-ion batteries were invented, leading to a revival in electric aircraft development. Today, there are over 200 global entities investing in startups and projects to develop all types of electric aircraft, from retrofit hybrid-electric general aviation vessels and long-range, commercial planes to electrical vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) urban air taxis.
As the industry faces pressure to reduce harmful emissions, the electric aviation movement has been gaining immense traction. Apart from the indisputable environmental benefits, there are other compelling advantages to advancing electric aviation. To better understand just how valuable the switch to electric air travel will be, this blog will outline some of its key benefits and the impact it will have on the aviation industry.
Reduced Fuel Costs
For some aviation companies, the decision to pursue electric propulsion is driven by potential cost savings and not necessarily environmentalism. In fact, fuel costs are a major variable expense for many airlines, and with rising prices, the increased cost of tickets for passengers will follow. General aviation pilots in particular experience the brunt of high fuel prices, which creates a barrier to flying more often. As such, the advent of hybrid or all-electric flight is a step forward in making flying more affordable for everyone.
The most recent electric addition includes the new “eBeaver,” a DHC-2 de Havilland Beaver seaplane modified to run on magniX’s 750-horsepower electric propulsion system with a four-blade Hartzell composite propeller. Unlike piston motor drivetrains, which range from $300 to $450 per operating hour, electric drive trains cost about $12 per operating hour. Similarly, Eviation’s all-electric Alice aircraft is expected to offer operating costs around $200 per flight hour.
For decades, the aviation industry has made it a priority to reduce aircraft noise for the benefit of passengers, airport employees, and those who live around airports. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), noise reduction programs have transformed the number of people exposed to significant aviation noise in the United States from 7,000,000 to a little over 400,000. Nonetheless, noise pollution remains a significant problem, and in some cases, concerns over noise have impacted air traffic growth and the vitality of local airports. When compared to jets and turboprop aircraft, electric and hybrid planes are significantly quieter, and sometimes even close to silent. That being said, electric aircraft are giving pilots the opportunity to operate closer to cities and dwellings at all hours without disturbing nearby communities and wildlife.
In general, electric motors are less complex than internal combustion engines because they have fewer moving parts, meaning they are less susceptible to wear and more reliable. Eventually, the hope is that electric aircraft will necessitate less downtime for maintenance and thus reduce operating costs. Although the “electric aviation age” may still be years away, the efforts of this new era of aviation pioneers are setting the foundation for sustainable and affordable flight.
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