Airbus flies into electric era


The Aerospace Industry is considering all possible solutions to reduce its reliance on always less affordable kerosene. On April 25, Airbus hit an early milestone in that quest, by completing the first official flight of its electric E-Fan experimental aircraft, which could serve as the prototype for a future hybrid engine regional jet.

The flight was performed in front of the French Minister of Industry Arnaud Montebourg, who proudly hailed the performance as an “aeronautical revolution.” The E-Fan aircraft concept was first unveiled by Airbus at the 2013 Paris Bourget Airshow. The plane is developed in partnership with Snecma (Safran), Aero Composites Saintonge (ACS), Zodiac Aerospace, Dassault Systems, Saft and the French Civil Aviation Authorities (DGAC).

The two-seater aircraft is made almost entirely of composite materials, powered by two electric motors and designed for short missions such as pilot training or aerobatics.

According to Aviation Today, the platform can run on its lithium-ion polymer batteries for 30 minutes, which Airbus is looking to extend up to an hour. Beyond being “green friendly”, the platform also results in cost savings, as for the same 1 hour flight the E-fan “burns” €2 of electricity compared to the €36 to €40 of fuel for a basic aircraft. Moreover the aircraft offers one special feature that could turn out to be a key advantage: it is silent.

During the press conference around the event, in Munich, Airbus Group Chief Technology Officer Jean Botti told reporters he would like to see a prototype for a regional jet version of the aircraft in 2030, reports Aviation Today.

Production of the E-Fan could start by the end of 2017, according to Botti. The group is currently targeting to produce 40 to 80 aircraft per year from the Airbus subsidiary, Voltair. Meanwhile, the group is already assessing that pilot training is a very promising market as around 650,000 new professional drivers must be trained in the world on the next 20 years, which means 21 000 aircraft trainers required by flight training schools.
“The E-Fan project and Airbus Group’s commitment to the field of electric and hybrid research show our vision of future technological developments” said Botti. “Our focus is to develop innovations that will help define what tomorrow aerospace industry is will look like,” quoted Aviation Today.

Alongside the E-fan project, Airbus launched E-Thrust; a longer-term project designed to integrate and test technological assets from the perspective of developing a hybrid regional jet with 80-100 seats. The platform will be based on a conventional turbine coupled to a thermal generator to power its batteries. It will be also more economical for airlines and allow them reducing their dependence on kerosene, which represents nearly half of their operating costs. The goal is set on year 2050 for an entry into service.

For the time being, Airbus CEO, Tom Enders has signed a partnership agreement with Siemens in conjunction with Safran to develop an electric motor. The test bench will be installed in Germany and should be operational in 2017.