Electric planes closer to reality with China's first flight

Four-seater electric aircraft makes first flight in north-eastern Chinese city of Shenyang

SHENYANG, CHINA - OCTOBER 28: China's first self-developed four-seater electric airplane RX4E prepares to make maiden flight at Caihu Airport on October 28, 2019 in Shenyang, Liaoning Province of China. The 1,200 kg aircraft is 8.4 meters long with a wingspan of 13.5 meters. Developed by Liaoning General Aviation Academy, the four-seater aircraft can fly about 1.5 hours for a single flight. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)
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China completed the first flight of its four-seater electric aircraft from the north-eastern city of Shenyang as the country pursues ambitions to develop battery-powered aircraft for short-haul transport.

The Made-in-China RX4E plane, which weighs 1200 kilos, can fly about 1.5 hours or 300 kilometres on a single charge, according to the state-owned Xinhua News Agency.

"The RX4E aircraft has a huge market prospect. It can be used in a number of fields such as short-distance transportation, pilot training, sightseeing, aerial photography and aerial mapping," Zhao Tienan, deputy head of China's Liaoning General Aviation Academy (LGAA).

The development of electric and hybrid planes is coinciding with the growing "flight-shaming" movement by climate change protesters seeking to reduce commercial flying and urging for dramatic cuts to carbon emissions. Commercial flying accounts for around 2.5 per cent of global carbon emissions.

The RX4E, which is 8.4 metres long and has a wingspan of 13.5 metres, is developed by China's Liaoning General Aviation Academy.

"The RX4E aircraft has a great market space and prospect,” Mr Tienan said.

The aircraft is made of carbon fibre composite material, making it lightweight, with the ability to take off on grassland and gravel surfaces.

The plane will be used in short-distance transport, pilot training, sightseeing, aerial photography and aerial mapping, Mr Tienan said, according to the Chinese news agency.

An uptick in development of hybrid and electric aircraft runs in parallel with rising consumer awareness of the carbon-dioxide impact of jet emissions.

European aerospace giant Airbus has targeted reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 75 per cent by 2050. The company is targeting a zero-emissions plane, but said that given the relative immaturity of the technology it’s likely to have to develop a hybrid model first.

The majority of other developments are focused on smaller aircraft. Zunum Aero, backed by Boeing and JetBlue, aims to bring a hybrid-electric commuter model to market by 2022.

MagniX is developing a propulsion system for an all-electric plane with a similar timeline.