Commercial aviation is responsible for about two per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and that share is expected to grow.
The idea of ‘flight-shaming’ — where, instead of boasting about your travels on Instagram, you hide it for fear of being called out on your carbon footprint — may grow along with it.
But there is a potential solution over the hazy horizon: electric aircraft.
Last month saw the launch of the world’s first all-electric commercial passenger plane.
The ‘Alice’ is expected to take its first flight this year and will carry nine passengers up to a distance of about 1,000 kilometres.
Its Israeli makers, Eviation, say it will enter service in 2022.
Canada could also see e-planes takeoff around then, too.
Vancouver-based seaplane operator, Harbour Air, is currently working with electric motor manufacturer MagniX with an aim to be the world’s first electric airline.
“The company is really excited to be undertaking this,” said CEO Greg McDougall.
“Being the first to pioneer commercially electrified aviation is a really big deal.”
Later this year, McDougall will pilot the first test flight of an electrically powered de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver.
“Aviation is certainly going electric in the future and we want to be ahead of the curve,” he said.
“There’s a fairly long process to get through, to get certification for electrified flight. So why not start it now.”
The six-seater aircraft is an old workhorse of the seaplane world, but could soon be quieter and cheaper to fly, according to the airline.
Initially, however, the plane won’t be able to carry a full load of passengers due to the weight of the batteries.
Seattle-based electric motor manufacturer MagniX says there is huge interest in its products.
“We’re getting calls on a weekly basis asking for solutions now,” said CEO Roei Ganzarski.
“We literally have to kind of push them back and say, ‘Hey guys you have to wait until we’re certified.’”
Ganzarski says the operating costs are much lower for electrical engines, adding that it’s just a fraction of the price of aviation fuel — and the maintenance costs are lower, too.
“When you take the total cost, you’re looking at 60 to 80 per cent lower cost per flight-hour to the operator,” he said.
“Which of course then translates into expected lower ticket prices for consumers.”
Ganzarski says the new motors won’t just replace existing aircraft engines but will spur a new sector of air travel, too, allowing people to cheaply commute longer distances, without pumping out fossil fuels.
“Perhaps a suburb can be redefined to something that’s not 10 miles (16 kilometres) away from town, but 100 miles (161 kilometres) away from town, and suddenly you’ve changed the definition of how we expect to live.”
Of course, the electricity needed to power aircraft must be produced somehow.
The carbon footprint of producing the electricity for an e-plane should be lower than the footprint made by aviation fuel, particularly if the electricity is produced using renewables like hydro.
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Scaling up the technology for larger commercial aircraft won’t be easy.
Wright Electric, based in the U.S., and British low-cost carrier EasyJet have teamed up to develop a 180-seat electric aircraft that will have a range of about 500 kilometres.
That is around one-tenth the distance a similar-sized kerosene-powered aircraft can cover.
That plane is expected to start flying about a decade from now.
However, most of us probably won’t even be around to see a time when the skies only contain electric aircraft.
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