Aerospace companies are joining forces to try to cope with the growing contribution their industry makes to greenhouse gas emissions.
And, faced with this problem, electric motors are seen as a possible solution.
But will it be enough to offset the growing demand for air travel by the population?
The International Air and Space Show in Paris-Le Bourget, also known as the Paris Air Show, featured this week's presentation of The world's first fully electric commercial passenger aircraft, even if in the form of a prototype.
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The Israeli company Eviation claims that the aircraft, named Alice, will be able to carry nine passengers on a journey up to 1040 km away and 440 km / h.
It should be ready to enter service in the year 2022.
Alice is an unconventional ship.
It has three propellers oriented backwards, one in the tail and two in the tip of the wings to counteract the effects of resistance. It also has a flat lower fuselage to aid its lifting.
"This plane does not look like this because we want to build a large plane, but because it is electric," said the managing director of Eviation Omer Bar-Yohay.
Eviation has already received its first orders. The regional airline Cape Air, which operates a fleet of 90 aircraft, has agreed to purchase a "two-digit" number of aircraft.
The company is using Siemens and magniX to supply electric motors. According to the magniX director, Roei Ganzarski, the commercial potential for small passenger electric planes is evident if one takes into account the 2 billion air tickets sold per year for flights less than 400 km away.
Is very important, Electricity is much cheaper than conventional fuel.
A small airplane like a turboprop Cessna Caravan can spend $ 400 on conventional fuel for a 160 km flight, said Ganzarski. But with electricity, that cost "will be between US $ 8 and US $ 12, which means much lower costs per flight hour," he said.
"We are not an environmental company, the reason why we do it it is because it makes commercial sense ", he said.
MagniX is currently working with airline company Harbor Air, based in Canada, to start converting its fleet into an electric one.
Even the future seems optimistic in the case of the medium-haul flights, those up to 1,500 km.
Unlike Alice, planes aiming for this range would use a combination of conventional and electric energy, which would allow them to significantly reduce CO2 emissions when the electric component of its propulsion is switched on at the key points of the flight as they are the take-off and landing.
First positive results
Several test projects are showing positive results.
For example, Rolls-Royce, Airbus and Siemens are working on the E-Fan X program, which will install a two megawatt electric motor on a BAE 146 jet. It is estimated that it can fly in 2021.
"C & # 39; is a huge effort involved here. THEengineering is absolutely state of the art and our investment in electrical systems is growing rapidly, "said Rolls-Royce technology director Paul Stein.
United Technologies, which includes the engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney, is working on its 804 Project, a hybrid electric demonstrator designed to test a 1 MW engine and the necessary subsystems and components.
The company says it should allow fuel savings of at least 30%. It should be able to fly in 2022 and should be ready for regional airlines in the next decade.
Zunum Aero, a company supported by Boeing, uses a motor turbine of the French Safran to drive an electric motor for a hybrid ship.
And the low-cost carrier EasyJet, which is working with Wright Electric, says it will start using electric planes in its regular services in 2027. It is likely to be used on short-haul flights such as London to Amsterdam, the second busiest of the # 39; Europe.
"Electric flights are becoming a reality e now we can foresee a future that does not dependto exclusively of fuel for airplanes ", said EasyJet CEO Johan Lundgren.
His statement is supported by a report from the UBS investment bank, which predicts that the aviation industry will quickly opt for hybrid and electric aircraft for regional travel with a possible demand for 550 hybrid passenger aircraft from year between 2028 and 2040.
And long-haul flights?
But the prospects for long-distance electric flights are not so optimistic.
While electric motors, generators, power distribution and controls have advanced very quickly, the technology of the batteries didn't do much.
Even assuming that there was great progress in this technology, with batteries 30 times more efficient and "energetic" than the current ones, it would be possible to fly an A320 aircraft for only a fifth of its range and with only half of its payload, according to the director of Airbus technology, Grazia Vittadini.
"Unless there is a radical paradigm shift and yet to invent energy storage, in the near future we will rely on hydrocarbon fuels," said Paul Eremenko, chief technology officer of United Technologies.
The big problem is that 80% of the aviation industry's emissions come from passenger flights over 1,500 km, a distance that no electric aircraft could fly.
However, the UK has become the first G7 country to accept the goal of zero net carbon emissions by 2050. It is a challenge for the air transport business, with 4.3 billion people flying this 39; year e up to 8,000 millions of people expected to do that in 2037.
Regulators are also adding to the pressure.
The European Aviation Safety Agency states that it will begin to classify aircraft based on their CO2 emissions, while Norway and Sweden intend to carry out short-haul flights in their electric airspace by 2040.
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So, logically, ¿Is the abandonment of long-haul flights the only solution?
This, of course, is not an attractive proposition for the industry. Paul Stein of Rolls-Royce believes that the world would be in a "dark place" if we stopped traveling.
In a global economy "where peaceful coexistence occurs while traveling and understanding each other, I am very worried that if we move away from this, it is not the direction in which humanity should go," he concluded.
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