Flying (and sailing) electric

Flying (and sailing) electric

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On the 18th of January 2020 the picturesque town of Bruges in Belgium revealed its new electric tourist boats. The first of five e-vessels is 9 metres long and 2.2 metres wide and replace diesel boats that the town used to use. The downside is that at 200,000 euros, they cost double what their diesel-powered counterparts did. As a result, the cost of the trip has gone up from 8 to 10 euros.

As more and more municipalities make the switch to electric, there are still two areas that seem to have been neglected. Electric power has begun to take over land but air and water are a different story with each one presenting challenges of its own. At the moment, virtually all electric boats and planes are small. It may be decades before large cargo and passenger ships and airliners are converted.

But that’s not to say that electric sailing or flying are pipe dreams. Greenline Yachts is a Slovenian firm making a range of yachts which include hybrid and even pure electric. And it’s not alone. A number of companies, including Oceanvolt and Hanse are other options if you’re in the market. As we’ve seen with electric cars, competition is one of the best ways to hasten development.

As for electric aircraft, it appears as though there are far fewer models that anyone can buy. Pipistrel, also from Slovenia, has its Panthera model which is available with either a regular piston engine, a hybrid, or a pure electric. But even the cheapest model is far beyond the reach of most people. While the aforementioned yachts don’t come cheap there are a number of used models that cost a tenth of what this airplane does.

That being said there are a number of models under development, including some aimed at the airline market. One area where they could have an advantage is in shorter range journeys, currently dominated by trains in Europe. Imagine if you took a silent, zero emissions flight to say Birmingham or Glasgow rather than the train. This, if large electric planes take off, will be the first area where they can be expected to dominate. In America, planes dominate even across short distances. For larger states like California and Texas, it’s entirely possible to get a flight that stays within the state boundaries.

The final option, for someone looking for something quite affordable, though still more expensive than a plane ticket, is a kit plane. There are a few companies, including Sonex and Van’s, that offer these with prices ranging from $10-50,000 depending on the model. And there are a number of companies making electric motors as well as batteries to install, though most are made for cars.

But as three wise men formerly on the BBC often say, how hard can it be? 

Image Credit: NASA LangleyAdvanced Concepts Lab, AMA, Inc.jpg

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