The aviation industry creates about two percent of manmade CO2 emissions worldwide. Essentially, air travel accounts for 12 percent of emissions within transportation, which makes it less environmentally friendly than most travelers would hope. In fact, Aviation has been described as "one of the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions” by the European Commission.
easyJet, an airline company based in the United Kingdom, is hoping to change the future of air travel with improved technology. While the airline is generally associated with budget travel, it’s now aiming to minimize pollution and increase efficiency by building electric planes within the next 10 years.
The company recently announced that it has linked up with a startup in the United States called Wright Electric. Together, they hope to create an all electric plane that can travel short distances, roughly 335 miles or less. These short but popular flight routes, such as London to Paris or New York to Washington DC, would be powered by special batteries.
But don’t electric planes already existed? Sort of. Government agencies have built small plane-like vessels powered by electricity and electric aircrafts have been developed by companies such as Lilium and Airbus. The main issue with developing an electric plane is that it needs a lot of energy to travel a decent range. At the same time, it also need to be lightweight.
Petroleum has been effective so far because planes, in theory, get lighter and more energy efficient as they burn fuel. Sadly, this method also produces a lot of pollution. easyJet is hoping to solve the problem by integrating electric power into the wings. For the time being, this idea is limited to short flights.
As one of Europe’s largest airlines, easyJet is making an overall effort to be more eco-friendly and trying to cut emissions on the ground by harnessing electric tugs to move airplanes around. The company hopes their efforts to make a more advanced aircraft will reduce carbon emissions and aviation noise in one stroke. Interestingly, Wright hopes the planes will be at least 50 percent quieter.
Carolyn McCall, easyJet’s CEO, is hopeful the improved technology will make a positive change, “Just as we have seen with the automotive industry, the aviation industry will be looking to electric technology to reduce our impact on the environment." It’s also very convenient to replace fuel entirely as it’s one of the most expensive variables for aviation operations.
In the meantime, easyJet is working with Wright Electric by supplying them with data and diagnostics. Wright Electric has been around since 2016 and was founded by a group of engineers from NASA, Boeing, and Cessna. So far, the young US startup has been able to build a small scale two seater prototype and hopes to eventually make an electric aircraft that can carry about 120 passengers.
While electric planes may not be hitting the skies tomorrow, easyJet and other companies are working to make air travel better for passengers and the environment. If all goes well, within a few years we may be jumping onto electric planes for short weekend trips.