An electric, zero-emissions aircraft could transform the way pilots are trained and help the airline industry drastically reduce its carbon footprint.
NEBOair’s two-seater plane, the Velis Electro, can fly for up to 50 minutes — dependent on headwinds and tailwinds — and operates almost silently.
The National travelled to the company's site in Essex where it was invited to board a flight to London in the compact plane.
It costs about £5 ($5.79) to fully charge the battery, compared to about £80 for a petrol engine aircraft of the same size to remain in the air for roughly an hour.
“So it’s quite a substantial difference in the operating costs,” said Deepak Mahajan, flight operations manager at NEBOair.
Manufactured by Pipistrel, the Velis Electro is intended primarily for pilot training but may also appeal to private customers looking for green modes of air travel for short distances.
Pipistrel, based in Slovenia and Italy, spent 14 years developing the technology required to run a plane solely on solar power, Mr Mahajan said. “It's taken a long while to bring up production prototypes, to do the flight testing, to do all the certification work with the European Aviation Safety Agency and with the UK Civil Aviation Authority.”
Mr Mahajan said he has received a “very enthusiastic” response from pilots keen to experiment in zero-emissions flights.
“Whether it’s battery-powered or hydrogen fuel cell powered, everyone wants to reduce our emissions.”
It is the first Easa Type certified light aircraft in the world driven entirely by electric propulsion and relies on a 57.6-kilowatt liquid-cooled engine to make it move.
The plane, made of carbon composite, is fitted with two 11kWh lithium batteries which take approximately an hour and 20 minutes to charge.
NEBOair charges the Velis Electro's batteries at a stand-alone solar charging station.
The aircraft can be purchased for £175,760, excluding VAT.
Having been used by Royal Air Force pilots during training exercises, the plane performed the world's first solar-powered air display at last summer’s Old Buckenham Air Show, in Norfolk, in eastern England.
NEBOair said if its Slovenian-made model was adopted by the industry for the training of pilots, it would go a long way towards reducing the sector’s overall emissions. Many would-be pilots spend long hours flying in the hope of getting their licence before quitting.
The plane was among the innovations attracting visitors at the London Climate Technology Show earlier this month.
“If you think about how many pilots go through training so far and give up, a bit like students dropping out of university, they get so far,” Kerry Wilmot, director of project and infrastructure management for NEBOair, told The National
“If all of that part was solely done on an electric aircraft, it’s a huge emission drop and carbon footprint drop.”
She said the reaction from spectators and aviation experts at the Buckingham Airshow convinced her the Velis Electro could one day be embraced across the sector.
“There were people there that have flown some of the top aircraft in the world and everybody was wowed,” she said.
“They had the RAF Typhoon display team which put on the most incredible display. We had to follow that and follow it in something that’s virtually silent.
“RAF pilots say it will fit into the future as a training aircraft.”