The UK’s first electric commuter flight is set to depart from Exeter Airport and land at Newquay Airport, both towns in the Southwest of England. If these test flights are successful it could lead to several hybrid-electric aircraft being used within the region in the future.
1. 2ZERO project
The project comes following a a successful bid to UK Research and Innovation’s £30 Future Flight Challenge from a consortium run by Ampaire electric aviation company. The consortium includes companies such as Rolls-Royce Electrical, University of Nottingham, Loganair Ltd, Exeter and Devon Airport Ltd, Cornwall Airport Ltd, Heart of the South West LEP, and UK Power Network Services, and has received £2.4m from the Future Flight Challenge for its £5m programme 2ZERO (Towards Zero Emissions in Regional Aircraft Operations).
The 2ZERO project, which runs from December 2020 to May 2022, involves both implementing and testing the necessary infrastructure for electric planes to be able to operate within existing airport and airline operations. As part of this, electric aircraft test flights will fly from Exeter Airport to Newquay Airport. The initial demonstration flights will use Ampaire’s six-seat Electric EEL aircraft and later the 19-seat Eco Otter, a hybrid-electric retrofit of the workhorse Twin Otter commuter aircraft. The test aircraft will be used to develop and evaluate the requirements of a fully integrated electric aviation infrastructure.
2. The project’s potential
The 2ZERO team aims to show an effective demonstration of hybrid-electric aircraft in an integrated system, including the necessary charging and battery storage infrastructure, believing that if this can be shown it could lead to a fundamental change in how regional airlines operate. Environmentally speaking, emissions would be reduced by as much as 70% if hybrid-electric aircraft were used, and could be got rid of entirely with a subsequent generation of all-electric aircraft.
The 2ZERO project has a lot of potential and is considered an important step towards being part of an exciting new market, which is forecast by UBS to be worth US$178billion to US$192billion globally between 2028 and 2040. Commenting on the project, Andrew Bell, chief executive of Regional and City Airports, the owner of Exeter Airport, stated, “Our 2ZERO programme is incredibly exciting for us and the South West region.” He added, “Exeter is an important regional airport and this project really puts us on the map as a forward-looking airport and demonstrates our commitment, along with our partners, to making the future of aviation a sustainable one.”
Karl Tucker, chair of HotSW LEP, said, “We’re delighted to be part of this successful consortium bid to UKRI. The South West has so much to offer, including boasting the most highly skilled workforce in the aerospace sector and our smart aviation cluster. “This programme is a huge step forwards in transforming the future of air travel and helping the UK to achieve its target of net carbon flights by 2050.” Susan Ying, Ampaire senior vice president for Global Partnerships, also stated, “For electric aviation to become commonplace, and play a significant role in reducing greenhouse gases, we need to look at not only electric aircraft but the entire ecosystem to support electric aviation. That will be a key aim of the 2ZERO programme.”