E-Fan - Airbus - Guillaume Faury

Dear Monsieur Faury: When are commercial eco-flights coming? The story of E-Fan

Esther Nestle
4 minutes

In the not too distant future, Airbus will be taking off purely using electricity. The new Airbus boss, Guillaume Faury, who is an advocate of working towards “zero-emission flying”, announced that air traffic should, can and has to become electric even when involving larger jets. Dear Monsieur Faury: When will the day come when we can jet around the world with a clear eco-conscience?

First, the sobering answer: Zero-emission long-haul flights in larger jets are still not on the horizon. At least not yet. Despite this, it is good to develop the vision of an environmentally friendly, climate neutral commercial airline. Think big. Only those who think big can achieve big. As Mr Faury does – and as he declares to the world.

Whilst our Earth’s streets are increasingly buzzing, Airbus is charging its batteries for the sky. Their engineers, and many others too, are researching solutions for zero-emission aircraft. They say that electric will take us further in the future.

Reason enough to take a closer look at what exactly the Airbus eco-tinkerers have managed to get up in the air pollutant-free to date.

2015: E-Fan – zero-emission take off

The E-Fan, an aircraft developed by Airbus, crosses the English Channel purely using electric power. A decisive step in the continuing story of flight? Certainly no-one knows exactly where these technical accomplishments will take us. But one thing is clear by any means: Electric flights are much more than the pipe dream of a few people; commercial eco-flights are entering the realm of technical possibility. But to what extent? What distances can be conquered in future and which aircraft sizes are possible?

Developing the Airbus E-Fan

2016: E-Fan Plus – will compromise take us further?

Only one year later, in 2016, the Airbus engineers followed up with the E-Fan Plus. Alongside its purely electric drive, the next model has an additional hybrid drive which means that a combustion engine can be connected. The advantages? Longer distances. The disadvantages? More greenhouse gas emissions. Ultimately the same as on the ground where purely electric car models and hybrid models are competing against each other for an ideal relationship between environmental friendliness and travel distance to win favour with the consumer.

Circumnavigating the world in Solar Impulse 2. Fuel-free!

Adventurer Bertrand Piccard, who has accomplished more than merely hopping across the English Channel by circumnavigating the world once without a drop of fuel, has chosen a completely different method of eco-flight! The active Swiss citizen achieved this spectacular fuel-free flight with the help of 60 metre wings packed full with solar cells.

It is easy to picture how engineers followed Bertrand Piccard’s round-the-world flight with interest and discussed it amongst themselves. However, no-one appears to view the principle behind Solar Impulse 2 as suitable for mass-implementation.

2020 (?): E-Fan X – a good start, nothing more

Behind this bone-dry project name lies a four-engine jet, the development of which involved Airbus working together with Siemens and Rolls-Royce. The project’s aim is to equip one of the four turbines with an electric drive and release it onto the market. According to the milestones which have been announced so far, the prototype should complete its first test flights in 2020 and enter series production during the 2030s.

The plan is to employ this technology in smaller regional jets with up to 100 seats. It is clear that the E-Fan X will considerably reduce emission levels. A real achievement for which our global climate still has to wait twelve years, however. And still the goal of ZERO emissions lies even further away.

Paul Stein, Rolls-Royce Chief Technology Officer on the E-Fan X programme by Airbus, Rolls-Royce and Siemens.

Is a double bonus on the horizon?

It seems as though there is certainly more going on behind Airbus’ closed doors. How else can we interpret the statement made by the new Airbus boss, Guillaume Faury, in April that a commercial aircraft which is driven purely by electricity will enter the market (bonus!) and in +/- ten years too (double bonus!)?

Let them surprise us! It goes without saying that the competition is not sleeping. The race to eco-air royalty is in full swing. Will the dream of commercial eco-flight really become a reality quicker than we currently believe? That would be terrific for our eco-consciences and, of course, bitterly necessary for our heated-up global climate. Dear Monsieur Faury, so please do not simply provide hot air in answer to this question: When will commercial eco-flights arrive?

You can find more information about electric flights in these WingMag entries: Electric Nose Wheel / Rolls Royce – The World’s Fastest Electric Plane / easyJet – First Flight with an Electric Plane in 2019?

Cover image – reference for editorial use:

by Esther Nestle

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