Small Electric Aircraft Bring the Future of Aviation
Jun 20, 2019 Dr Peter Harrop
It is easy to say that, although small electric aircraft are at last selling, they are a negligible part of the overall aircraft market. Mistake. They will work up from the bottom to be mainstream. Airbus, Boeing and Rolls Royce know this, but many others are sleeping through the future. Some of the successes are from small companies.
Amazing new technologies are in the pipeline. The new IDTechEx report, Manned Electric Aircraft 2020-2030, explains the significance of such things as distributed thrust with up to 30 thrusters, ionic thrust, rise-and-glide, cryogenic fuel cells, superconducting motors and powertrains and other routes to even airliners going pure electric. Regenerative propellers and solar/ supercapacitor bodywork will assist.
This is a story of three options:
1) The idea whose time has come - small fixed-wing pure-electric aircraft giving lower total cost of ownership, zero emission, nearly silence, off-grid charging - no fuel supply chain. They are needed for initial training of over 500,000 pilots over the next 20 years (Boeing). They may reverse the decline in leisure piloting by solving its problem - cost. All-hours fixed-wing flying taxis are in prospect and newly-viable, clean tourist and industrial flights. The leader, Bye Aerospace, rapidly gained an orderbook of over $165 million, yet this is under 1% of the addressable cumulative market for this subsector of the emerging manned electric aircraft business.
2) The certainty within 10 years - larger fixed wing electric aircraft: lower cost, more versatile, all hours. Power needed increases disproportionately with size, but the report predicts when larger e-aircraft are viable. Hybrids get there first but with some noise and emissions deficit. But can pure-electric alternatives to business and regional jets fly as fast? Can biofuels always be available where needed?
3) The glamorous - small vertical take-off VTOL aircraft are weird and speculative. Participants target city flights from locations not currently approved for flying. Power failure is usually catastrophic: they fly too low for a parachute and do not glide. Solving the safety, regulatory, systems cost, air traffic control and other problems needs time. Flying from your garden is some way away. Patient, wealthy developers like Uber are at an advantage here. Long distance hybrid VTOL aircraft for fast turnaround in regular airfields are an interesting alternative market.
The IDTechEx report, Manned Electric Aircraft 2020-2030 has a comprehensive Executive Summary and Conclusions with ten primary conclusions, many timelines and how the top down approach of More Electric Aircraft MEA contributes. Addressable markets are scoped such as pilot training need by region, elderly Cessnas needing to be replaced, the long range and the city and airport VTOL opportunity. See the market barriers and costs with FAA, Uber and NASA views and IDTechEx comparing 42 key players by e-aircraft type. Learn motor types used and planned by project. See technology timelines to 2050, adoption dynamics 2020-2030. When will the killer blow of lower up-front price happen by type/ year? See Siemens, NASA, Airbus and IDTechEx projections to 2040 for everything from regulations to adoption of new principles of flight. For 2019-2030 IDTechEx presents new number and value market forecasts seven categories of manned electric aircraft. The Introduction examines powertrain options in more detail and gives the complexity roadmap as influenced by electrification, in-mold electronics, wireless boards and more. What new functions get added? What are the many options for energy harvesting at both aircraft and board level? See emissions, regulations and legislative drivers 2020-2040 and benchmark land transport.
Chapter 3 Technologies firstly explores progress to the end game of energy independence. Energy storage, batteries, motors (ten trends), power electronics and energy harvesting get detailed treatment. For instance, with electric motors, the kW/kg has increased tenfold and it will go further to 20 kW/kg. See how. Chapter 4 gives detail and analysis on ten important developers and manufacturers and their views and their many programs advancing both startlingly new technology and new electric aircraft. Throughout the report there are many examples of recent activity, interviews and intentions with many illustrations making it all very easy to grasp from battery reduction to technology transfer arriving from drones and Tesla cars. Only IDTechEx gives this big picture with technical depth in its report, Manned Electric Aircraft 2020-2030.
Top image: Wikipedia