Norway sets ambition for all-electric short-haul flights by 2040 as aerospace majors announce hybrid-electric venture
The E-Fan X hybrid-electric prototype based on a BAe 146 regional aircraft
Thu 25 Jan 2018 – By 2040, all short-haul flights within Norway and neighbouring countries lasting up to one-and-a-half hours should be operated by electric aircraft, forecasts Norwegian airport operator Avinor. In the transition to all-electric aircraft operations, the country, which aims to be the world’s first to switch to electric air transport, will ramp up use of sustainable aviation fuels and hopes to have a small electric plane with 19 seats operating on a commercial route starting in 2025. Over the past year, a number of electric or hybrid-electric commercial aircraft projects have hit the headlines, the latest an announcement by Airbus, Siemens and Rolls-Royce that they are to collaborate on designing a demonstrator hybrid-electric regional aircraft that is anticipated to fly in 2020.
“Electric aircraft are set to significantly improve the environmental consequences of the aviation industry,” said Avinor CEO Dag Falk-Petersen. “It could also be cheaper to fly as operating costs for several aircraft models will be considerably lowered, which will have an impact on ticket prices.”
Air transport accounts for 2.4% of Norwegian greenhouse gas emissions for domestic traffic and more than double that when international traffic is included.
“We know that aviation will increase sharply in the future and environmental measures are important,” the country’s climate and environment minister, Vidar Helgesen, told state broadcaster NRK.
Before the introduction of electric aircraft passenger flights, biofuels would be part of the solution, he said, adding: “We have an escalation plan for biofuels, which we believe provides a strong signal to the market. Investment decisions are now being made on the production of biofuels in Norway, based on domestic raw wood material, which will make the biofuel more sustainable as an energy source for airplanes.”
State-owned operator Avinor says it is working to ensure Norway takes a leading role on electric aircraft at the international level and collaborating with aviation industry partners on a development and innovation project, which is also backed by the Norwegian Ministry of Transport and Communications.
As a first step, Avinor and the Norwegian Air Sports Federation have ordered an Alpha Electro G2 electric two-seater aircraft from Slovenian aircraft manufacturer Pipistrel, claimed to be the first of its kind to be approved for commercial series production. It has a range of 130km and can remain airborne for around an hour per charging. The aircraft is expected to be delivered this coming May.
Commenting on the project, Ketil Solvik-Olsen, Minister of Transport and Communications, said: “We are now seeing rapid, positive development in environmentally-friendly technology in the transport sector. Electric drives and batteries are changing shipping and road transport. It is incredibly exciting that we can also contribute to leading the way in environmentally-friendly air travel.
“By introducing Norway’s first electric aircraft, we will be demonstrating that this is not a far-off vision of the future but a reality achievable within a few years.”
Meanwhile, Airbus has abandoned a project to develop, with a view to manufacturing, its own two-seater electric aircraft, the E-Fan. Instead, it will work with Siemens and Rolls-Royce on the E-Fan X hybrid-electric technology demonstrator based on a BAe 146 regional aircraft. It is anticipated to fly in 2020 following a comprehensive ground test campaign. One of the aircraft’s four gas turbine engines will be replaced by a two megawatt electric motor, with provision to replace a second gas turbine with an electric motor once system maturity has been proven. Additionally, a Rolls-Royce AE2100 gas turbine will be installed in the rear fuselage to power a two megawatt electrical generator.
As well as double digit percentage fuel savings, other benefits include lower aircraft noise, says Rolls-Royce. According to an article by the Royal Aeronautical Society on the venture, Siemens has been at work lowering the noise of its electric aircraft prototypes and if the early promising results can be scaled up, then hybrid-electric regional airliners could open up the possibility of a relaxation of night-time restrictions at airports.
The objective of the E-Fan X project, say the partners, is to push and mature the technology, performance, safety and reliability that will enable quick progress on hybrid-electric technology. The programme, they add, also aims at establishing the requirements for future certification of electrically powered aircraft while training a new generation of designers and engineers to bring hybrid-electric commercial aircraft “one step closer to reality”.
Rolls-Royce Chief Technology Officer Paul Stein said: “The E-Fan X enables us to build on our wealth of electrical expertise to revolutionise flight and welcome in the third generation of aviation. This is an exciting time for us as this technological advancement will result in Rolls-Royce creating the world’s most powerful flying generator.”
The partners say that meeting the EU’s Flightpath 2050 Vision of a 75% reduction in CO2, a 90% reduction of NOx and a noise reduction of 65% cannot be achieved by existing technologies. Electric and hybrid-electric propulsion are among the most promising technologies for addressing the challenge, they stress.