The aviation industry has taken a tentative step toward electric power with the successful maiden flight of the Airbus E-Fan. The manufacturer known for the massive A380 jetliner began testing this small experimental aircraft last week, with the ultimate aim of lowering the huge carbon dioxide emissions from commercial flights.
The E-FAN is powered by 120 lithium-polymer batteries and can fly at speeds up to 136mph. Measuring just 19 feet from nose to tail, the compact aircraft shows that Airbus probably isn’t ready for commercial zero emissions flight just yet, but it does highlight the potential benefits.
In addition to emissions and noise reductions, electric power could be significantly cheaper. Airbus claims an hour-long commercial flight on the E-Fan could cost just $16, compared to $55 on a similarly-sized conventional aircraft.
However, there are also drawbacks, some of which should be familiar to electric-car drivers. The E-Fan is relatively slow, for one, and its flight time is much shorter than conventional jets.
For now, Airbus plans to continue work on the E-Fan. Two versions will be produced: The E-Fan 2.0 fully-electric training aircraft and the E-FAN 4.0 hybrid, which could see commercial use at some point.
Electric aircraft are likely to experience the same issues of added weight, short range, and long charging times as electric cars, and the demands of commercial aviation may make these harder to solve. Yet every technology has to start somewhere, and the E-Fan represents that first, tentative step.