Electric Aircraft

Flightpath of the Future of Air Travel

Remember the good old days of flying? When you dressed up to board the plane, had a luxurious meal, and drank free liquor from tiny airplane bottles? You could walk straight from the ticket counter to the gate without going through metal detectors, taking your shoes off, or removing your laptop from your bag. Then you settled into your assigned seat and… Wait, hold on? Why does this plane in my daydream look just like the one I took to New York last month?

In the transportation world, we’ve seen a tipping point in the acceleration of the ‘Car of the Future’ where we are now moving decidedly in the areas of electric and autonomous vehicles. We’ve even seen all-electric technology expand into trucking with production and sales of new electric models set to begin next year. But in the area of civil aerospace, although there have been advancements in systems, materials, and fuel efficiency, aircraft built today look and operate much like those built 60 years ago.

But change is coming. Electric power is already being used in several non-propulsive systems on an aircraft and technology has recently advanced to the point where electric engines are becoming a viable alternative to jet turbofan engines. Why switch? One major driver is because air travel is responsible for ~2% of man-made CO2 emissions and with air traffic forecast to grow at 4-5% for the next 10+ years, electric engines could reduce carbon emissions for the industry by 50%. Equally important, electric engines save on operating costs as they have less moving parts than jet engines and therefore require less maintenance, are more reliable, and are quieter to operate.

In the report that follows, we focus on the activities that directly impact the aircraft and engine OEMs looking ahead to 2030 in four key areas: aviation/pilot training, general aviation, urban mobility/air taxis, and regional aircraft. Together, we forecast electric aircraft to have an addressable market value of over $17 billion. More surprisingly, this revenue opportunity isn’t something way out in the future. Electric aircraft for pilot training exists today and we expect launches in general aviation in 2022, air taxis in 2025, and regional aircraft in 2030. To date around the world there are almost 170 electrically-propelled aircraft projects under development.

The futuristic vision involving flying cars and air taxis with vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) capabilities and electric-propulsion technology is coming closer to reality as well as cities look for ways to cope with growing populations. We expect to see multicopter and hybrid prototypes for passengers emerge in the next 2-3 years and urban mobility services to start operating as early as 2025.

Of course there are some key limiting factors to electric aircraft implementation — most importantly current battery technology isn’t where it needs to be in terms of energy density and charge times to support full implementation for larger planes and longer distances. Public perception and safety is also a headwind as running out of charge in an electric vehicle on the highway is a lot different from running out of charge in an electric aircraft at 10,000 feet. But progress is being made and we expect advances in battery technology to drive accelerated uptake of electric aircraft while regulators are already looking at ways to make the new technologies safe.