I recently wrote a blog-post on a possible trip over the English Channel to Northern France via light aircraft; rather than going by ferry or conventional airliner. This then got me to thinking; could we soon be able to take the first all-electric fly-drive holiday?
Technically it is possible now. The new plane above carries 9 passengers with an approximate range of 100 miles or 160km; in theory comfortably enough to fly from say Bournemouth to Cherbourg. You could drive to Bournemouth in an electric car and hire another electric car at the other end, giving you your all-electric fly-drive holiday!
Magnix, the plane manufacturer, say the recent 30-minute test flight of this aircraft cost about $6 in energy costs instead of $300 in aviation fuel. Think how much cheaper a flight ticket based on electric energy could become! This is what will sell these planes, rather than the environmental benefits; the evolution of the aviation industry ruthlessly promotes cost saving and efficiency.
That being said, aviation fuel is an incredibly compact way of carrying around lot’s energy; great for long-haul flights and why it’s unlikely you are going to be on a New York bound all-electric 200+ seat airliner any time soon. On the flip side, electric motors are already at least 5 times more efficient at using stored energy to provide powered flight; it’s just that battery weight means this super-efficient energy cannot currently be carried in large amounts.
Now range aside, batteries are not completely without other issues, you have to factor in how the electricity to charge them is generated and the environmental impact of extracting the raw materials that go into making them. However, they do in general, offer a much more environmentally sustainable vision of aviation.
Rather than flight shaming or giving up on flying, let’s use carbon-based fuels as efficiently as possible where we have to and don’t where there is clearly a better alternative; whether that alternative is electric planes or something else altogether. For example, if you need to mow a 40M sq. back garden, then use a lawnmower with rechargeable batteries. However, if you need to harvest a 40-acre field of wheat then, as things stand, you are going to use a combine harvester powered by fossil fuels. Most of us use a mixture of things already, some powered by batteries and some by fossil fuels; it just depends where you draw the line. At the moment that line in aviation is flying 9 people up to 100 miles, but this boundary will move as the technology develops.
Let’s be positive and imagine in 2040 boarding a new electric airliner taking 100 of us on a 2-hour flight to the Mediterranean. I would sit down next to my Grandchild; I’m telling them all about how I went on an early electric plane way back in 2021, after they found the Covid vaccine. There would be a pause and a “that’s interesting Grandad”, before they link their ‘ishades’ to the holographic in-flight magazine; vainly hoping I wouldn’t start telling them, yet again, about how “I once got to fly on the top deck of one of those Jumbo 747 things you know”.