The demonstration, which the group christened E-Aircraft Day, was the first major step in Airbus’s goal to become the world’s first electrically powered regional airliner. An achievement that, in spite of the successful first flight of its two-seater prototype, may still be up to 20 years away, the company's chief technology officer said.
The batteries that propel the aircraft are “tricky,” Jean Botti told Reuters. “They’re causing us a lot of headaches."
The company has looked to electric and hybrid car manufacturers, such as Tesla Motors, to develop its rechargeable lithium polymer batteries, which supply 60 kilowatts and enable E-Fan to maintain an average cruising speed of 160 km/h for up to an hour.
Although the prototype is only suitable for short-range functions like towing gliders and aerobatics, Airbus has a second generation E-Fan in the works. The “E-Fan 4.0” has an expanded four-seat arrangement and will be powered by a hybrid electric and combustion engine, extending the plane’s range up to 4.5-hour flights, according to one aviation blog.
Besides producing the lowest possible CO2 emissions with its custom hybrid engines, a potential fleet of regional jets running on battery power would reduce the noise surrounding airport operations, potentially opening times when planes are allowed to fly and thus expanding air traffic, according to the company’s website.
While the commercial manufacture of the two- and four-seater E-Fan could begin as early as 2017, Botti wants to see a regional electric plane with room for up to 90 people humming quietly across Europe and North America by 2030, as “a Tesla of the air.”
Airbus's Quiet Electric Airliner Wants To Own The Skies By 2030