Airbus Joins Boeing in Electric Aircraft Development

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Commercial jet maker Airbus announced Tuesday morning that it has formed a partnership with Siemens and Rolls-Royce to develop a hybrid-electric demonstrator aircraft to fly by 2020. The demonstrator will be a British Aerospace BAe-146 short-range regional jet that will have one of its four traditional turbofan engines replaced with a 2-megawatt (MW) electric motor.

Last April Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA) invested in a Seattle-based start-up, Zunum Aero, which is also working on a hybrid-electric airplane. JetBlue Airways Corp. (NASDAQ: JBLU) invested in Zunum at the same time.

Siemens will build the 2MW electric motors and their power electronic control unit along with the power inverter, a DC/DC converter and the power distribution system. Rolls-Royce is tasked with the turbo-shaft engine, 2MW generator and power electronics. Airbus will integrate the pieces and develop the control architecture of the hybrid-electric propulsion system and batteries and the integration with flight controls.

The aircraft is dubbed the E-Fan X, and Airbus and its partners see hybrid-electric propulsion as “a compelling technology for the future of aviation.” The European Union has adopted technical environmental goals for the aviation industry to meet by 2050. These include a 75% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, a 90% reduction in nitrous oxide emissions and a 65% decrease in noise. These targets cannot be met using existing technology.

The testbed aircraft for the E-Fan X is a four-engine, 128-passenger jet regional jet with a top cruising speed of around 475 miles per hour and a range of about 1,000 miles. Here’s the illustration Airbus released this morning.

Source: Airbus SE

 

In early October, Zunum Aero announced that its first hybrid-electric product would be a 12-passenger commuter plane designed to reach small regional airports. The plane’s range is more than 700 miles and its top cruising speed is 340 mph. The firm wants to hit a target operating cost of $250 an hour, a level the company’s co-founder and chief technology officer called “unbeatable.” Zunum is currently looking a first delivery of the aircraft in 2022. Here’s the company’s illustration of the aircraft.

Source: Zunum Aero

 

Paul Stein, chief technology officer at Rolls-Royce, thinks you will be able to buy a ticket on a hybrid-electric regional plane carrying around 100 passengers in 2030. That’s light speed in the aerospace industry, especially for an aircraft with an all new propulsion system.