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Good News in the Future World of Aviation

Here's a quick round up of all the environmentally positive stuff on the near horizon. Be it hybrid, electric or hydrogen - it's all coming.

Newspaper images of unwanted A380s lined up on desert airfields across the world looked to be just another sign of the aviation industry’s apparently inexorable decline, with the pandemic being just the latest blow. But big airlines and new enterprises alike, are taking the initiative and fighting back!

Behind the headlines, Rolls-Royce is an engineering company with a vast stake in the future, and since the clock is now ticking on the kerosene-powered jet engines that have been its mainstay, the company has been investing in research programmes looking at the alternatives. The ACCEL (‘Accelerating the Electrification of Flight’) programme, developed with YASA, an Oxford-based electric motor and controller specialist, is close to take off in the form of ionBird, a 6,000-cell, 500hp battery-powered plane that Rolls-Royce has been recently testing. The team believes that the plane, officially named ‘Spirit of Innovation’, is capable of over 300mph, easily enough to break the airspeed record for electric flight (the current one for a zero-emissions’ flight is 213mph).

The first electric plane, the charmingly named Cessna Caravan, took flight on 27 May 2020 in Washington State.


Airbus is another major player in he airline industry. The global aviation industry produces around 2 to 3 percent of all human-induced carbon dioxide emissions, so reducing and, ideally, eliminating this percentage from the world's CO2 emissions would be excellent news. According to Airbus, zero-emission large passenger aircraft powered by hydrogen will be technically feasible in five years but it may take a while longer for the price of hydrogen fuel to come down to make their plans commercially viable.


The world’s first flight of a commercial-grade aircraft powered by a hydrogen fuel cell has already taken place, with a six-seater Piper Malibu plane taking off from Cranfield University’s airport. Val Miftakhov, CEO of the start-up, was one of the pilots on the eight minute flight reaching 1,000ft and 100 knots. The flight was used to demonstrate the viability of the ZeroAvia’s 800-volt emission-free powertrain, which turns hydrogen into electricity to drive the Piper’s propellor. So, zero harmful carbon emissions. It was the culmination of a two year, £5.5m venture funded jointly by Mr Miftakhov, private investors and the British government.


As a mixed bet on the future of aviation, a British firm has unveiled concept images for what it claims will be the 'largest commercial hybrid plane in the world'. The 70-seater 'hybrid electric regional aircraft' (HERA) has a 'whisper-quiet' operation to reduce noise pollution and airborne battery regeneration. It's a hybrid passenger plane - meaning it's powered partly by an environmentally-friendly electric engine and other part conventional jet fuel - and has a range of 800 nautical miles (920 regular miles). The HERA aircraft, which will be in service by 2028, will create job opportunities in the aerospace, manufacturing and engineering industries post-Brexit, according to the designers. "Significant investments have been raised to develop sub-19 seat hybrid and all-electric aircraft which we believe is the wrong strategy," said Kamran Iqbal, founder and CEO at EAG. "These small planes cannot meet the demands of mass air transportation or the requirements of decarbonisation. Our design is for an aircraft that will initially offer 800 nautical miles range at launch in 2028, and which will be able to carry over 70 people. We will be a first mover in what is a $4.4 trillion market."


British company, based in Bristol, unveils all-electric 'flying taxi' that will be able to carry up to four passengers between London and Brighton in 30 minutes with zero emissions. Designed to carry up to four passengers, the zero-emission flyer - the 'VA-1X' - will use Formula 1 tech to reach top cruising speeds of around 150 miles per hour and a maximum range of some 100 miles. The firm expects that the VA-1X will begin commercial flights in 2024 following flight testing which will begin next year. According to Vertical Aerospace, trips in the craft will likely end up costing passengers around £5 to £10 per mile, roughly between that of a helicopter and a private car. "At Vertical Aerospace, we believe that people should be able to quickly and affordably get from A to B without sacrificing the planet," said CEO Michael Cervenka.


Zero emission aeroplanes that use ammonia as jet fuel rather than kerosene could take to the skies 'within years', British scientists claim. A collaboration between Oxford-based Reaction Engines and the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council could see ammonia replace kerosene as jet fuel. Unlike kerosene-based jet fuel, ammonia is less of a fire hazard and, in even better news, burns without releasing the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide that contributes to climate change. The third piece in the good news jigsaw is that a switch to ammonia would only require minor additions to conventional jet engines, meaning airlines could make use of the cleaner fuel without needing to completely replace their current plane fleets.


Last, but by no means least, there's the impending arrival of a flying car. And, even better, it's electric. SkyDrive showed off it's futuristically styled flying car earlier this year - it looks very like something out of Star Wars - at the Toyota Test Field, one of the largest in Japan and home to the car company’s development base. The SD-03 is the world’s smallest electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicle and takes up the space of about two parked cars, according to the company. It has eight motors to ensure safety in emergency situations. “We want to realize a society where flying cars are an accessible and convenient means of transportation in the skies and people are able to experience a safe, secure, and comfortable new way of life,” CEO Tomohiro Fukuzawa said in a statement.

So, buckle up, the future of aviation is just around the corner...

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