When the heck did electric commercial flight become a realistic prospect?!
Whether it was low cost carrier EasyJet planning electric passenger flights within a decade, or Boeing-backed Zunum’s plans to run battery-powered flights out of regional airports, I have not hidden my surprise at the fact that fully electric commercial flight is being seriously considered possible in the medium-term future.
I mean, it wasn’t that long ago that I was surprised to see a plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt on my street.
But progress just keeps on going, and now numerous outlets, including (appropriately enough) Life in Norway, are reporting that Avinor, Norway’s major airport infrastructure operator, is aiming for 100% of short-haul flights to be fully electric by 2040 at the latest. Avinor also wants to be running test flights on key routes as early as 2025.
To be clear, we are only talking about flights of about 1.5 hours in duration or less—but that would still cover almost all domestic routes, as well as flights to nearby foreign capitals like Copenhagen or Stockholm. There are several reasons why this would be a pretty major deal.
Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, short haul flights are far more polluting per passenger mile than long haul. That’s because of the sheer amount of power it takes to get a plane off the ground. By shifting these shorter routes to cleaner, more efficient electric propulsion, we could save more energy intensive jet fuel for those longer routes that really need it. Even if longer-haul electric flight is not yet viable, this may also help develop hybrid options or other efficiency improvements that could be deployed on longer flights too.
Secondly, despite its status as an oil and gas exporter, Norway’s electric grid runs primarily on renewables. So just as its massive growth in electric car sales has created outsized climate benefits due to its greener grid, the same will be true of electric flights that charge up in Norway.
And thirdly, while Norway itself is a relatively tiny country, this sends a powerful message to airlines, airplane manufacturers and governments around the world—that electric flight is increasingly feasible, and they’d better start investing now if they don’t want to be left behind.
Now if Norway could also stop pushing oil to the rest of us…