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From Volkwagen's emissions scandal to China’s ongoing air pollution crisis, environmental issues are front-and-centre on the global stage. And aviation is one of the main culprits fuelling the problem. Wright Electric is a European company that intends to make all short-haul flights electric within the next 20 years. We explore the insights behind the technology and explore if aeroplane flights really can go fuelless.

Founded in 2016, the company intends to reduce carbon emissions from air travel by making 30% of global flights electrically-powered in the next 20 years. With studies suggesting pollution from planes in Europe is set to rise by 43% in the next two decades, it’s a welcome innovation. Enlisting the expertise of a team that was previously funded by NASA to investigate the real-life potential for electric planes could mean that the 150 capacity electrically-powered aircraft of the future might not be that far off. And it’s caught the attention of mainstream airlines. "EasyJet has had discussions with Wright Electric, and is actively providing an airline operator's perspective on the development of this exciting technology,” says a spokesperson from the British airline.

Will electrically-powered planes take off with the public?
Charged (2017) ©

But there are certain hurdles to overcome before this can be a viable and feasible prospect. Battery innovation needs to advance quickly – if it doesn’t, the planes will have to go hybrid, using similar technologies found in the Chevvy Bolt, but if advances in battery power continue at a pace, we could soon see a proportion of domestic and short-haul flights making use of the new technology.

The European Perceptions on Climate Change survey reports that 60% of Britons are concerned about the environment. But while brands across industries shout about their eco-credentials, airlines are falling short. “I try not to fly if I don’t have to,” says 39-year-old Justin in an interview with Canvas8. “It’s so bad for the environment. But when I do, I find that airlines seem like pretty much of a muchness. If one of them could tell me they were using less diesel than a rival, or were more eco-conscious – even if it was £40 more – I’d book with them instead.” Although sales of electric cars dropped around 5% in 2016, the barriers to personal electric vehicles are very different compared to deciding between airlines – and with flights in electrically-powered planes having potential to be cheaper than fossil-fuel powered alternatives, could this be the future of the short-haul flights?

Lore Oxford is cultural editor at Canvas8. She previously ran her own science and technology publication and was a columnist for Dazed and Confused. When she’s not analysing human behaviour, she can be found defending anything from selfie culture to the Kardashians from contemporary culture snobs

07 Apr 17
3 min read

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