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Aviation Giants in a Race to Perfect Electric-Powered Passenger Planes

Airbus and Boeing are making huge bets that the development of cost-effective and efficient all-electric and hybrid passenger planes will open a whole new niche market.

The prospects for battery-powered passenger planes are looking a whole lot more promising after aviation giants and commercial airlines have jump-started development projects with considerable capital investments in recent years. While a hybrid-powered jumbo jet might not be on the horizon just yet, the strides towards an efficient electric-powered passenger plane are beginning to move at breakneck speed.

In 2015, Airbus unveiled a prototype electric passenger plane at the Paris Air Show. The two-seat E-Fan 2.0 aircraft with a flight range of about one hour in the air was considered revolutionary at the time. Technology has advanced by leaps and bounds in the the months since the E-fan 2.0 was first introduced. Less than two years later, Airbus and Boeing are on track to develop commuter-sized passenger planes with a greatly increased battery life.

According to a recent Bloomberg report, the chances of seeing hybrid and electric passenger planes at the airport is inching ever closer to reality.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity,” Director of the National Science Foundation’s Center for Power Optimization of Electro-Thermal Systems Andrew Alleyne told Bloomberg Technology. “But it comes with some serious technology challenges. If we can solve those here in the U.S., it puts us at a serious competitive advantage.”

While advances in technology are making electric-powered flight closer to an everyday reality, there are currently some very real limits to the aircrafts’ capacity that are faced by hybrid and electric passenger plane designers. Even the most ambitious plans, including those by the leader in the field, Boeing and JetBlue Airways supported Zunum Aero, initially call for 10- to 50-seat aircraft with a range limited to about 700 miles.

Despite the well-funded push to develop an alternative to today’s fossil fuel-powered aircraft, stubborn challenges remain. Developers say tough-to-solve obstacles of battery weight and persistent heat build-up issues, mean that jet engines won’t likely become obsolete in the near future.

Many experts offered similar warnings about the obstacles to developing consumer-friendly electric cars. Some of the very same initiatives and technological advances that helped to fill the highways with hybrid and electric cars might also help to make the concept of jet fuel-free passenger planes a reality sooner rather than later.

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