Report says electric aviation could challenge travel ‘status quo’

By Dirk Singer / December 20, 2022

Last year NASA produced a report on Regional Air Mobility (RAM). This examined the potential transformative effect low or zero carbon aviation could have for community and smaller regional airports.

That’s because hybrid electric and hydrogen electric aircraft go a long way to solving the three problems associated with regional aviation – noise, operating costs and emissions.

The conclusion of the NASA report was that in the next decade, “the local airport you may not have even known existed will soon be a catalyst for change in how you travel.”

While the NASA report focused on the US, two studies from EAMaven and Swanson Aviation Consultancy have come to the same conclusion for the UK. A November report, put together for UK Research & Innovation, looked at 20 possible UK routes that could be served either by eVTOL aircraft or smaller electric / hybrid electric planes.

While that report only publicly shows the departure airport, with each destination being blanked out with xxx, it’s possible to work out some of the routes in question from the published road and rail distances between the two cities.

For example, one route seems to be Belfast – Derry in Northern Ireland, currently a two hour train journey.  Another, which the authors think can be handled by eVTOLs, is Peterborough – London.

Situated in the East of England, Peterborough has a population of around 179,000 and is connected to London by train, taking 70+ minutes. It also doesn’t have an airport served by any commercial aircraft, instead it has a privately owned airfield – Peterborough Business Airport.

So, like the 2001 NASA report about the US, the authors believe that small UK airfields like this could spring to life, in the case of Peterborough, catering for eVTOLs.

And the authors see significant benefits in introducing next generation electric aircraft on these routes.  

Their November report concludes that:

“Based on attracting travellers away from car journeys, we calculated that, on an annual basis, we would reduce carbon emissions from cars by 9,000 tonnes.”

joby-electric-aviation-simpliflying

This was then followed up by another study (this one was not produced for UK Research and Innovation) in December. There’s a video of the findings on the EAMaven website, but Aviation Week has a summary.

This time, the authors took a much broader selection of 390 potential regional airport pairings in the UK.  In it, they found that Joby’s eVTOL will work on 217 of the 390 routes, while the Heart Aerospace ES-30 will work on all of them.  Only 38 of the routes they identified were previously served by commercial aircraft in 2019, meaning that there would be potential to create over 350 new ones.  These of course won’t go through the crowded hubs at London’s Heathrow or Gatwick Airports, but will instead be point to point.  

Meanwhile the total market of people who travel back and forth on those 390 routes is five million people.  And one of the advantages of electric regional aviation is that you can be viable from a much smaller potential passenger base than is the case currently.

The conclusion, according to the report authors, is that the idea of what the most sustainable form of sub regional transport is, will be turned on its head.

Right now, most (82%) of the travel on the routes identified in the reports is by car.  Transferring that traffic onto regional aircraft could therefore involve tens of thousands of fossil fuel burning vehicles being taken off highways.  

As a result, the authors conclude that “a future system that disrupts this status quo is evolving.”

“Low on environmental impact, but high in economic contribution, a new sub-regional air mobility sector can offer flexible and commercially-viable solutions to these issues – with the environmental benefits that come with electric and hybrid power too.”

See as well our UAM and next generation aircraft reports.

Image credits – top image Heart Aerospace, middle image Joby Aviation

More aviation-specific sustainability updates and analysis can be found in our twice-weekly Sustainability In The Air newsletter, led by SimpliFlying’s Research Director Dirk Singer. Do subscribe to our send-out to stay on top of the latest trends.

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