In the past few years, electric cars have caught on in a pace that few of us could have imagined. As batteries have become more efficient, also electric aviation has become a real opportunity. There are already two-seater electric planes on the market, and a handful of companies all over the world are developing electric passenger planes. These planes are estimated to be on the market in 2026.
– Even I, an optimist, am surprised about how far technology in this area has come and how quickly it is developed forward, says Mr Mathias Lindström, Director of the Kvarken Council.
Strict safety standards
The Kvarken Council has since the beginning of 2020 led a project aimed to map out the electric aviation industry and to prepare the region to make use of this new technology. Mr Arne Smedberg, CEO of BioFuel Region in Umeå is one of the people working with the project.
– In short, you could say that the technology for electric aviation already exists, but its certification takes time at moment. The safety standards are heavy in the aviation industry and getting new planes approved is a long process, says Smedberg.
This is also the reason why some of the companies which develop electric planes use old, approved fuselages, and simply change their engines to electric engines.
19-seater planes coming in 2026
What is the current technical situation in the electric aviation industry?
- There are already two-seater electric planes on the market that are used in many places in the world. Their flight range is circa two hours.
- Passenger planes for 9-19 passengers with a range of 400 km are under development. The certification of these planes is expected to be finalised in 2026, which is when the planes could be in commercial use.
- The next step could be planes for more passengers, or with longer ranges. These planes are expected to be operational in 2030, but much naturally depends on how quickly batteries are developed.
- Electric airplanes are also developed for vertical start and landing. This aircraft type combines the transport benefits of airplanes with the starting and landing benefits of helicopters.
Andreas Forsgren, Anna Bertills, Isak Brändström, Lars Westin, and Arne Smedberg contributed and lectured on Wasa Future Festival 08/2021, about the possibilities and challenges with electric aviation. Photo: Marcus Lillkvist/Vasabladet
In short, you could say that the technology for electric aviation already exists, but its certification takes time at moment. The safety standards are heavy in the aviation industry and getting new planes approved is a long process.
Arne Smedberg, CEO of BioFuel Region in Umeå
The battery technology moves forward
The batteries used today in electric plans are lithium-ion batteries of the same type as the ones used in electric cars. Under development are so-called solid-state batteries, which will charge faster, and which will contain twice as much energy in relation to their weight as today’s batteries. The distances electric planes can fly in the future is therefore heavily linked with battery development.
In addition to pure electric planes, also hybrid planes, that run on electricity and hydrogen gas, are developed. One of these planes has already been flown in Germany. Hybrid planes will be able to fly longer distances than planes that are 100% run on electricity.
Prior agreements on electric planes
The Kvarken Council is not the only actor who believes in electric planes – many airlines do too. One of the start-up companies developing electric passenger planes is the Swedish Heart Aerospace, who has already made several prior agreements on its 19-seater electric airplane. Among others, United Airlines has informed that it aims to buy one hundred electric planes from the company, and Finnair has said to buy twenty electric airplanes.
– Most often, start-ups develop electric planes. The traditional aircraft manufacturers do not seem that interested, probably because their focus lies in large planes. And it will take a long time before there are large electric planes in the air, says Smedberg.
One problem is the fact that airport tariffs today are the same for all types of planes, which means that the tariffs easily make an unreasonably large portion of the ticket prices when flying with small planes.
Arne Smedberg, CEO of BioFuel Region in Umeå
The technology is not an obstacle
According to Arne Smedberg, technology is not an obstacle for a wider use of electric aviation at the moment, but rather other factors. Strict safety regulations make the certification process slow, and in addition to this, the infrastructure in the aviation industry is not adjusted to electric aviation.
– At the moment, there are not standards for charging stations, and this naturally also means that airports do not want to invest in them yet. The companies developing charging stations are also still on the fence, says Smedberg.
Another problem is the fact that airport tariffs today are the same for all types of planes, which means that the tariffs easily make an unreasonably large portion of the ticket prices when flying with small planes.
Aviation might become environmentally friendly
– The aviation industry is quite conservative and has, in large, served under the same logic for many decades. Therefore, it takes time to turn the ship around, says Smedberg.
He is, however, optimistic about the future of electric aviation.
– The aviation industry is heavily pressured to become more environmentally friendly. If you can fly on electricity instead of fossil fuels, flying suddenly becomes an environmentally friendly way to travel.
(Finding innovations to Accelerate the Implementation of electric Regional aviation) is to be seen as a first step of preparing the Kvarken region for an early implementation of electric aviation. The project increases the knowledge base about electric aviation, investigates the possibilities and surveys both the needs and the required technical investments.
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