Founded in 1989, the Slovenian aircraft manufacturer Pipistrel is not one of the best-known players in the industry. However, the company, which manufactures gliders and small powered aircraft, has won numerous awards for its innovations, is a pioneer in eco-friendly aviation, and in 2007 produced the world’s first two-seater electric aircraft.
The Slovenian company also manufactured the first purely electric aircraft, the Alpha Electro, to receive a certificate of airworthiness from the U.S. Aviation Authority in 2018. The two-seater, which costs $ 140,000, can thus fly for about 90 minutes without the use of fossil fuels (apart from whether or not the electricity currently used was fed into the system from a renewable source).
Another Pipistrel model, the Velis Electro, became the first electric-powered aircraft to receive a certificate of airworthiness from the EU aviation authority in June this year. This also means that the model is considered completely safe and suitable for mass production.
Although there are a number of spectacular breakthroughs associated with the Slovenian company, Pipistrel is just one of the aircraft manufacturers working for less polluting aviation. This way we can see that there are already many companies that are interested in including partially or fully electric powered aircraft in air passenger transport.
This year has brought a number of breakthroughs: electric planes have set a new distance record, successfully mimicking the routes of some commercial flights and attracting the attention of several major airlines. The six-seater hybrid of the Los Angeles Ampaire, for example, successfully made a 550-mile trip, breaking a distance record. Ampaire is currently testing to launch commercial flights between small airports in the Hawaiian Islands.
A company called Eviation has already received more than 150 orders for its nine-seater electric aircraft, and Wright Electric is developing an 186-seat passenger carrier for easyJet with 2030 shipments. Archer Aviation promises to reform urban transport with four-seater air taxis. The company says the world’s first purely electric-powered fleet will launch in 2021.
Several experts said electric or hybrid machines could appear in passenger traffic within a few years (Pipistrel machines are used for education). UBS Investment Bank estimates that 25 percent of air traffic will be accounted for by hybrid or purely electric aircraft by 2035.
The green turn would be significant because, individually, we can do the most harm to the Earth’s climate by traveling long distances, by definition, by plane. Aviation is responsible for more than two percent of global CO2-equivalent emissions that cause climate change, and its weight could increase significantly in the future as passenger numbers are projected to double by 2035.
Electric machines with fewer components, requiring less maintenance, and expected to be much cheaper to operate can first be used on shorter distances. With electric machines, airlines can open up new, shorter-distance roads that can be more competitive than rail and road transport.