Startup Wright Electric plans for electric passenger planes

Posted on 23 Mar 2017 by Michael Cruickshank

A new aerospace startup called Wright Electric has announced plans to build commercially viable electric passenger planes within the next decade.

The company believes that it will be able to produce battery-powered electric aircraft capable of short haul routes, and able to carry up to 150 passengers.

Such short haul routes, often served by aircraft like the Airbus A320 and the Boeing 737, make up approximately 30% of all air travel globally.

Wright Electric has only been operating for a year, however, has attracted serious funding from startup accelerator Y Combinator, as well as hired staff with who previously worked with Boeing, Cessna, and Nasa.

As well, Wright Electric is reportedly collaborating with low-cost airline Easyjet to work on building these jets.

“Easyjet has had discussions with Wright Electric and is actively providing an airline operator’s perspective on the development of this exciting technology,” the airline said to the BBC.

Nonetheless, the technology behind electric aircraft is still in its infancy, and commercially viable designs are a long way from becoming a reality.

Primarily, batteries currently are too large, too heavy and do not store enough energy for a large aircraft to stay in the sky for a significant amount of time.

As well, the current industry standard lithium-ion batteries are prone to combust violently when damaged, making them a potential disaster for aircraft.

Wright Electric is hoping that over the next decade the current trend in battery improvement will continue allowing for these aircraft to become possible. As well, they believe that a revolutionary improvement in batteries, such as a switch to Li-Metal isn’t “beyond the realm of possibility”.

Despite this optimism, the company is also planning for a more subdued improvement in batteries. In this case, their aircraft would instead operate as a hybrid vehicle similar to a Toyota Prius or a Chevy Volt.

While the task of building an electric passenger aircraft is indeed great, the benefits would also be significant.

Most notably, aircraft are currently a major source of CO2 pollution in the atmosphere and one which we currently do not have the technology to easily mitigate.

Should electric aircraft become widespread, they would represent a way for society to maintain its use of air travel, yet remain carbon neutral.