The aviation industry is responsible for about 2.5% of global emissions, and its climate impact is about 3.5% of all anthropogenic global warming. While some passengers may buy carbon credits for a little peace of mind after a flight, the issue of aviation emissions still stands on a large scale. Enter electric aircraft, which startup company Wright Electric plans to have in the skies by 2026.
Wright Electric will convert existing BAe 146 planes, first made by British aerospace company BAE Systems in the 1980s, into electric planes. By reusing existing planes, Wright Electric can speed up certification processes to start flying zero-emissions aircraft sooner. Certifications for new aircraft can take many years. The company will slowly transition each of a BAe 146 plane’s four jets into new, 2 MW motors until the entire plane is converted by 2026.
“The level of power and weight demonstrated with our new 2 MW motor will become the baseline for any new electric aircraft and is a key technology in our megawatt system,” said Jeff Engler, CEO of Wright Electric, in a September 2021 press release about the new motors.
The electric planes, called Wright Spirit, will comfortably carry 100 passengers in a quiet ride, unlike conventionally noisy planes. The planes will have a range of about 460 miles, according to CleanTechnica, which is about a one-hour flight. This may seem quick, but these short flights are often the norm across Europe or even for business travelers. Replacing frequent, short-haul flights for zero-emissions travel could make a big impact.
Wright Electric is focusing on reducing emissions for these short, high-demand flights, particularly Seoul to Jeju, which is the world’s busiest route with 14 million passengers annually, as well as London to Paris, Rio de Janeiro to São Paulo and San Francisco to Los Angeles.
“Aviation has committed to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, but Wright Electric is committed to a 100% reduction in all emissions starting in 2026,” Engler said. “Because we built the world’s largest aerospace propulsive powertrain, we can build the world’s largest zero-emissions retrofit directly serving the world’s busiest routes.”
Wright Electric’s efforts in getting zero-emissions passenger planes off the ground has been noticed by many. The company has received funding, contracts, and/or collaborations with several governmental departments, organizations, and airlines to bring this technology to life, including NASA, the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Air Force, Viva Aerobus and easyJet.
Flight testing with one electric propulsor will begin in 2023, followed by testing with two electric propulsors in 2024 and leading to flying the fully electric planes in 2026. Wright Electric is also working on developing a flagship plane that will carry 186 passengers with over 800 miles of range. Their goal is to have this larger plane in service by 2030, the company said in its press release.