Assuming SAS is still in business by then
Last I heard they were under bankruptcy protection, and I think some support they received was ruled against by EU.
Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) will today start to take bookings for its first-ever commercial flights on electricity-powered planes – scheduled for 2028. At noon central European time, the airline will allow registration for 30 seats on one of three inaugural flights. SAS can't say where the planes will leave from, nor where …
30 seats isn't much, so it has to be seen how commercially viable that is. On the other hand, aviation fuel and engine maintenance are both big expenses for airlines, so the commercial side could work just fine. Also, smaller aircraft allow operation out of smaller airfields (more regional, shorter waiting times), which could work very well for people in more rural areas who would otherwise have to travel 2-3 hours to a big airport (+ having to be there 2 hours before the flight). That could open up more point-to-point routes, contrary to the trend in the last few years where major airlines have routed most flights through major hubs.
£150-ish seems quite reasonable even though gimmick-gamed... I remember it wasn't that long ago (20-ish years) when a short-haul flight in Europe cost £300 plus in "then" money (probably closer to £500 now).
From the back end of 2008 and through to the end of 2012 I regularly flew Heathrow <-> Berlin (once or twice a month usually). When I first started I could get flights for between £100 and 150 return, depending on operator & time of day. The airlines, were as I recall, a mix of BA, Lufthansa, BMI (then independent) and Norwegian (while they still did that route).
As time went on it crept up to between £150 and £200, and by the end it was approaching £250 to £300 with fewer airline choices....
Just for context.
"30 seats isn't much"
The DC-3, the most popular airliner ever built has 32 seats in standard format. And I bet in 2028 93 years after entering service there will still be more DC-3/Dakotas flying than the grand total of all electric planes in commercial service.
And they don't have to update software. Just new generation wetware ;-)
One would expect the plane to be used on multiple routes to increase utilisation to conventional airline levels. Indeed as one may expect (like cars) the higher capital cost to be dominated by the batteries. Yes, you would achieve lower running costs - but you need to pile in the flights to repay the capital cost - not standing around on an island beach plugged into a long extension lead to the nearest 3 pin plug. (I jest a little, but you get the picture).
Swapping would seem to be the only feasible option in the long term as the faster you charge to minimise turnarounds you also, with present technology, shorten the life of those very expensive batteries.
I've got several comments, not all related to each other.
1) These "hybrid turbogenerators" run on what exactly? Maybe I've missed it? If they run on hydrocarbons, well, there you are. I don't think airplanes have much benefit from regenerative braking.
2) For a 200 km flight, the time you spend getting to the airport and traversing the various queues inside the airport is going to be a lot bigger than the time it would have taken you to just drive there. It barely makes sense for a 600 km flight.
3) All of that said, we do have to start somewhere, and if this works out it will at least prove that battery-powered commercial flight is possible. That's a pretty good first step. Battery tech still has quite a bit of potential to get better.
4) Also, I think that if we managed to decarbonise everything except for a few tough nuts like long-range flight, that would be good enough. If the amount of fossil-powered activities was reduced by 90%, we could probably offset the remaining 10%. I don't think synthetic hydrocarbons (produced with renewables or nuclear) are going to work out for personal transportation, but for long-range flight they might be good enough.
on 2); or all those other 'vital' air links, like London - Exeter for surfing, London to Manchester for avoiding the train. Anyway, t, if we just bought one of these for the prime ministers hops from Downing street to wherever his daily 'gurn at camera in hi-viz' appointments are, that would probably halve UK aviation CO" emissions by itself.
The turbo generators on the aircraft probably ause viation fuel, or synthetic aviation fuel. Manufacturing synthetic fuel isn't very efficient, and makes no sense for road or rail vehicles when compared to using pure electric power, but for an aircraft, a synthetic fuel makes a lot more sense than batteries, because the energy density is so much better. (With road vehicles, the efficiency hit of carrying heavy batteries isn't as bad as the efficiency hit of converting something that isn't fuel into fuel....)
When I see 200km flight, I think domestic. There's a hell of a lot less waiting around on a domestic flight from a regional airport than international from hubs.
The last one I took we were the first to arrive at the airport; check-in desk wasn't even open... it was a whopping half an hour before the flight. Most people arrived ~10 minutes before takeoff.
Flight was over mountains, 45 minutes (so say 1:30 door to door including collecting luggage) vs ~5 hours drive and both airports were within walking distance of where we wanted to be.
Battery tech still has quite a bit of potential to get better.
It really doesn't, though. Barring some unexpected new physics discovery, we're pretty much bumping along the top end of what's possible with battery technology. To make commercial electrical-powered flight viable, we would need several orders of magnitude increase in energy density and a similar reduction in weight, but we're not likely to see even a single order of magnitude increase. This is before accounting for the amount of time required to charge those batteries, which would be far longer than the normal turn-around time for a commercial jet.
Energy density is the killer issue. Batteries don't have it, and without that fundamental, unanticipated discovery, will never have it. We could discuss how efficient EVs are until we're all green in the face, but that ignores the fact that EVs have to be efficient in order to extract every last useful amp from those batteries and still don't match the performance of conventional engines. The moment you go add any extra weight or drag, range goes flying out of the window.
Predicating this entire process of transformation on a hypothetical future advance, when all of the currently hyped or anticipated "next big things" are adding a meagre few percentage points of improvement at best, is idiocy. The entire process of "decarbonisation" is economic suicide.
> Predicating this entire process of transformation on a hypothetical future advance, when all of the currently hyped or anticipated "next big things" are adding a meagre few percentage points of improvement at best, is idiocy.
Agreed. Aviation counts for 2% of global emissions (or 8% of UK emissions), a relative drop in the ocean.
I wouldn't even bother with "offsetting" the last 10%: if we were emitting CO2 at 10% of 1970 levels, the planet will cope happily with that. Besides, most "offset" plans are a joke anyway - e.g. planting trees when they would have regrown naturally if you'd just left the land alone; or buying cookstoves to replace existing wood-burning stoves (which were carbon neutral in the first place).
However, aviation needs to show that it's sharing the pain, which is reasonable considering the breaks they currently get. No tax at all on aviation fuel?! That should be the first thing to change.
> The entire process of "decarbonisation" is economic suicide.
That I disagree with, and is why you didn't get an upvote.
In the last 50 years we have had massive economic windfalls; investing those back into solar, wind, storage and/or nuclear is just good sense, for climate stability and the long-term economic benefits that brings, not to mention energy security as the last year or two have made plain.
In any case, the supplies of hydrocarbons underground are not infinite, and could be put to much better use. I'm sure our descendants in a few hundred years will say: "we can't believe that you had that vast reserve of valuable chemical resources, and you just *burnt* it all!!"
Have you not been paying attention? Battery capacity has grown by about 10% every year, while price has fallen. There's a reason now that you can spend ~£20,000 and get an EV with a 50kWh battery (Vauxhall e-Corsa/Peugeot e-208), when beforehand that £30,000 (in real terms - ~£40,000) would, in 2012, have got you a 24kWh Nissan Leaf. Batteries have plummeted in price, increased in density and reliability. There's no reason to not believe that in 10 years, that 200km flight could easily be a 400-500km flight.
Yes, it's unlikely that batteries will ever reach the performance for something like a 737, but no one seriously is proposing batteries for those aircraft except possibly as part of a hybrid drive. For short and very short haul flights, batteries could well be the ideal, efficient solution. E-fuels/biofuels are the most likely and promising alternative for larger aircraft right now.
> There's no reason to not believe that in 10 years, that 200km flight could easily be a 400-500km flight.
Except that the 200km plane doesn't exist, and is already predicated on assumed improvements in battery technology that haven't happened yet.
It's certainly true that recent *cost* improvements have been major: for a home solar PV system, you can now get double the kWh capacity for half the price, compared to even only 3 or 4 years ago. That may well continue.
However, a home 3.5kWh battery still weighs 32kg. Price is not the barrier to battery-powered aviation; weight is. Improvements to energy density have been comparatively minor.
So, this is a technology which is good for “very short haul flights”? And what exactly is “Environmental” about that? It’s exactly what the EU are legislating against, on environment grounds, to drive traffic onto high-speed trains.
You’re talking about a flight which is maybe 200km max (always use kilometres, it sounds so much further than it is). So, 120 miles. That’s two hours drive in a car, from *where you are to where you want to get to* which is the bit everyone leaves out. Or one hour in a train, with a half-hour drive at each end (car or bus, this isn’t about private vs public transport), which is two hours. Or……twenty minutes in a plane, plus an hour commute at each end (because there really aren’t many airports), plus an hour minimum at the Source airport plus half an hour at the Destination airport. So, four hours total. This is useful….why?
Perhaps indeed in Norwegian fjords, or the Orkneys, replacing the ferry. That’s what super short haul is used for today, ten minute island hops. Global market maybe a few dozen of these? Nothing is ever entirely useless. But electric airplanes are having a damn good try.
"you can spend ~£20,000 and get an EV with a 50kWh battery"
Sadly, there isn't enough charging capacity available on motorways for a 50kWh battery to be practical for long range journeys in the UK, although it's plenty for a local runabout. I've been looking for an EV for a couple of years, and I've come to the conclusion that I'm waiting for a 6 seater vehicle with a 80 to 120kWh battery (depending on the drag coefficient) for about £30,000 (new price, not second hand). Dissapointingly, it looks like I'll be running my 2.5l v6 van for at least 5 more years (It's already 25 years old...) and unless the price of batteries plummets, I'll be replacing it with a hybrid rather than a pure electric vehicle.
" Barring some unexpected new physics discovery, we're pretty much bumping along the top end of what's possible with battery technology."
Current Lithium-ion Battery energy density is around 250 Wh/kg, but the theoretical upper limit for Li batteries is around 400 Wh/kg, which already tells us that we can, in practice, get at least 60% of theoretical max into a commercial product. There are several battery chemistries with theoretical maximums of 1000-2000 Wh/kg, so it's not implausible to suggest a commercially viable battery doing 1000 Wh/kg within th enext20-30 years. So we're hardly 'bumping along the top end', it's possible to at least double and more likely quadruple current energy densities.
"To make commercial electrical-powered flight viable, we would need several orders of magnitude increase in energy density and a similar reduction in weight..."
So, as mentioned above, we won't be getting even one order of magnitude increase in energy density (note that if we increase energy *density*, the reduction in weight is inbuilt so saying "similar reduction in weight" is redundant). First of all, the fact that SAS are exploring this should tell you that we are already close to commercial viability even with current tech. That means that probably doubling energy density at the same cost will suffice, no need for even 1 order of magnitude increase let alone several.
Keep in mind that you also have to factor in efficiency - jet engines around 40%. Propeller efficiency 85% X electric motor efficiency 97% = 82%, double the efficiency.
Of course energy density IS a killer issue for range. Aviation Fuel energy density is 12,000 Wh/kg, so even with an optimistic outlook we know straight off the bat that electric planes can't ever supplant jets for long-haul flights. And charging time is certainly an issue (swapping battery packs may be the way to go here) But no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater, for shorthaul flights it should be fine.
And extending your rant to EVs in general is plain ignorance - Electric cars are already almost cost-competitive with equivalent ICE cars without subsidies, and while ICE cars are a very mature technology that aren't getting any better / cheaper, battery tech still has a lot of space to get both better and cheaper. In the long run, EVs will become as cheap or cheaper than ICE ones (although the "cheaper to run" comparison might be weakened as government taxes on fuel might shift to power in general)
Electricity cannot be "stored". Even batteries are "generating" electricity, not storing it. The more batteries they use, the more morbid these EVs become.
If it was not for the buzz around hydrogen powerplants I would say battery-based EVs are the stupidest idea, but here comes hydrogen: "hold my beer"!
A modern commercial aircraft uses about 3 to 4 times as much energy/minute in takeoff and climb as it does in cruise (partly higher power, partly higher efficiency at cruise heights), so a hybrid approach might not be such a dumb idea, batteries + used chip fat oil to climb to altitude, then one or the other to mooch along to destination. Oversize your turbines a bit and you could recharge your battery boost in flight. There used to be JATO (Jet assisted takeoff aircraft like the Fairchild C-123, - noisiest thing in the world when it took off with jet assist.
“partly higher efficiency at cruise heights”
This is another Achilles heel of electric planes. All planes are aerodynamically more efficient at high altitude due to lower air friction, but turboprop *engines* are limited to lower altitudes (typically 25000 feet). This isn’t (just) a combustion engine thing, rather gaining sufficient thrust at lower atmospheric pressure would require the tips of the propeller to go supersonic, which would cause huge drag. Very small turboprops can operate up to about 30,000 or even 35000 feet precisely because they don’t need much thrust to keep them airborne, but not airliners.
Any electric plane is going to have to drive a propeller (turboprop). Therefore, it will be restricted to lower altitudes than a jet, thicker air, more drag.
Honestly, it’s not at all obvious that passenger aviation is consistent with electric.
"For a 200 km flight, the time you spend getting to the airport and traversing the various queues inside the airport is going to be a lot bigger than the time it would have taken you to just drive there."
For SAS, the benefit would be short flights that can't be driven, so connecting Denmark, southern Norway and Southern Sweden, or Sweden to Finland is an ideal use case. The 'driving' option would involve a (much slower) ferry. I would guess however that initial flights would be made over land and they're not flying over sea until they have a good grasp of whether the plane can handle it reliably.
Re 4) - Absolutely
None of this matters if the supply/demand equation doesn't work. How much is it going to cost? How many people will use the service for the price you're going to have to charge? I don't think these things are going to come close to working out on a large scale, so we will be back to flying for the rich, trains or nothing for everyone else.
This only applies to propeller aircraft, doesn't it? Is there any prospect of ion drive - and what non-poisonous ions would be thrown out the back? Maybe the great boon of the jet age wasn't because props caused the vibration, it was the piston engines; for all I know turboprops are as smooth as a jet. But as far as I know they don't fly above the weather, up where the air is thin.
First the good news. 30 seats is a perfectly viable number, contrary to some comments here. This class of plane is known as a feederliner and its job is to ferry folks along the "spokes" between local airports and the major international hubs. An 800 km range at ca 75% capacity is viable.
Now the bad news. 200 km is laughable and the turnaround time, including recharge, likely unacceptable. And the batteries would be losing significant capacity after perhaps a couple of months' heavy cycling. Far more practical to rip them out, fly on turbogenerator alone and extend the 800 km passenger capacity to 100%. So that's what they will all end up doing; wasting 10% or more of their turbo's fuel in the double-conversion from spinning-to-leccy-to-spinning again.
30 seats might be viable for some parts of the world, but would only account for less than 1% of the flights in the UK. And much as I like the idea of a turbogenerator, it makes sense for a railway engine (locomotive, for the pedants) but has no place in an aircraft where a turbojet or turboprop is more efficient.
The geography here in British Columbia lends itself to smaller float plane operations between the big cities of Vancouver, Seattle and Victoria. To plug the local company, there's a push to electrify the Float Plane fleet and Harbour AIr has a prototype running already. https://harbourair.com/corporate-responsibility/goingelectric/