An American company has set itself quite an ambitious goal – to ensure that all “short hop” passenger flights are zero-emissions by the mid-2030s. The aptly-named Wright Electric is currently seeking investors to fund the design and construction of a small, 150-seat passenger aircraft that’s capable of flying 300 miles – roughly the distance between Boston and New York. The startup company is banking on battery technology continuing to develop at its current rapid rate. The ECO-150R, as the proposed electric plane has been named, is intended to slot into the market that is largely occupied by Boeing’s ubiquitous 737 airliner.
Around 30% of all commercial airline flights are short-haul, flying between destinations roughly 300 miles apart. The global short-haul market is worth some $26 billion annually, but this bold little company isn’t the only one that has spotted an opportunity to put a zero-emissions plane into service.
Aviation giant Airbus has had its own all-electric airplane, the E-Fan, in development since 2014. Granted, the E-Fan will only be an 80 or 90-seater upon completion, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that Airbus already has a massive head start over Wright Electric.
There is, however, a contingency plan that Wright Electric will execute, should the battery technology it is reliant on not be developed at the rate it needs it to, and this involves turning the ECO-150R into a hybrid rather than an all-electric plane. Despite the big gamble that the company is taking, there has already been interest from EasyJet, a low-cost, short-haul airline that primarily services European routes.
According to several media reports, the British-flagged carrier is actively engaged in discussions with Wright Electric in order to provide an airline’s perspective on the development of the ECO-150R. The company is also drumming up interest from the private sector, with a billionaire who reportedly already owns four private jets making an enquiry as to the possibility of him purchasing an ECO-150R to sit alongside them.
If you’re wondering how the “refueling” of an electric plane would work, Wright Electric plans for its design to contain several modular battery packs that can quickly be removed and replaced from the plane when it's being turned around ahead of its return leg to its destination of origin.
The benefits that could be reaped if this huge ambition is realized include a saving of about 400 gallons of aviation fuel for each 300-mile trip made, as well as emitting zero greenhouse gas emissions.