Electric aircraft market takes off amid surge in growth

Increase driven by adoption of cleaner and greener aircraft as companies adopt technologies to cut carbon emissions, new research finds

An Alice all-electric plane from Seattle-based Eviation during a taxi test in February. The aircraft, which is expected to enter into service by 2024, was chosen by DHL Express last year to become part of its sustainable fleet. AFP
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The global all-electric aircraft sector is expected to surge 14 per cent to about $20 billion by 2030, up from $6bn last year, as the race to adopt cleaner and greener air transportation takes off, according to a new study by Dublin-based consultancy Research and Markets.

Industry stakeholders are developing core aircraft components and adopting technologies to transition the sector into a more sustainable means of air transportation and cut carbon emissions, Research and Markets said.

“The growth of this market is mainly driven by an increase in adoption of cleaner and greener aircraft, developments in advanced air mobility and alternative sources of energy,” the report said.

Air transport and the wider travel sector are among the major contributors in the rise of carbon emissions worldwide and governments and companies are working together to reduce CO2 emissions to meet internationally agreed sustainable goals.

After a rapid increase over the past two decades, emissions from the aviation industry fell to just over 600 million metric tonnes in 2020, the lowest level since 1997 and down by a third compared with 2019, according to the International Energy Agency.

Last December, French aviation start-up Ascendance Flight Technologies unveiled the design of the Atea, a five-seater vertical take-off and landing aircraft it described as an environmentally friendly alternative to helicopters that reduces carbon emissions by up to 80 per cent.

In January, the Spirit of Innovation — a battery-powered aircraft built by UK-based Rolls-Royce and described by its chief test pilot as “monstrously powerful” — officially broke the world speed record for an all-electric aircraft.

Last August, global logistics company DHL Express said it had ordered 12 fully electric Alice eCargo planes from Seattle-based Eviation, as it moves forward with its decarbonisation agenda. The Alice aircraft is expected to enter service in 2024.

The aircraft electrification sector is dominated by a handful of global companies — including US-based GE Aviation, Raytheon Technologies and Honeywell International, and Thales Group and Safran in France, the Research and Markets report said.

These companies have been able to expand their footprint in countries across North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America, it added.

However, the Covid-19 pandemic slowed the sector's production and services by 7 per cent to 10 per cent, respectively, according to industry observers.

In 2020, US aerospace company Boeing and Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways unveiled a joint programme using the Greenliner ― a specially configured 787 Dreamliner that will serve as a “lab” to test new technology in an effort to help reduce carbon emissions and make the aviation industry more sustainable.

“Projected operational cost savings and lower long-term cost advantages represent the biggest motivation for aircraft operators and producers to electrify aircraft,” researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which is under the US Department of Energy, wrote in a recent study.

North America, in particular, is expected to lead the aircraft electrification market because of high demand for new aircraft in the region, Research and Markets said.

“The growing upcoming projects and the emergence of several start-ups supporting the electrification in the aviation industry are additional factors influencing the growth of the North American market,” it added.

While all-electric models are the ideal aircraft to be put into service, the Research and Markets study showed that the hybrid-electric segment is expected to garner the highest compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for the market in the next decade.

“Hybrid electric technology uses both aeroplane fuel as well as electricity to drive the propulsion system,” the report said.

“This technology helps reduce fuel burn, energy consumption, emissions and noise for single-aisle passenger aircraft,” it added, noting that solar and fuel-powered systems are the two types of power sources available in hybrid propulsion.

In terms of components, the battery segment — similar to the electric vehicle sector — is expected to continue playing a major role in the electrification of aircraft, having captured almost a quarter of the components market in 2021, Research and Markets said in the report.

Lithium-sulphur batteries — which are expected to overtake lithium-ion technology — present an opportunity to create batteries that hold as much as five times more charge than lithium for a given size and weight of a cell, it added.

“Based on platform, the business and general aviation segment is projected to grow at the highest CAGR rate during the forecast period,” Research and Markets said.

This growth “can be attributed to the increase in corporate profits, rise in the number of high-net-worth individuals and an increase in the replacement demand for existing business jets with new ones”.

Updated: May 07, 2022, 3:30 AM