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Are emission-free jets the future of private aviation?

23 November 2021• Written by Gabriel Leigh

The world of emissions-free aircraft is still very much in its early stages, but new concepts are starting to emerge one by one – from inspiring new designs to greener iterations of existing airframes. The likelihood is that we will start to see real aeroplanes that don’t need to burn fossil fuels to fly in this decade. And though most of these are initially aimed at the regional and commercial aircraft markets, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t also work in executive aircraft as the technology continues to develop and mature. Here’s a brief look at some of the most promising up-and-coming aircraft with green credentials due to take off in the coming years.

Airbus ZEROe
Credit: Airbus

Airbus ZEROe concept range

If you have longed to swap out your conventional fixed-wing aircraft for something a little more space-age, you will be pleased to know that Airbus is considering a so-called “blended wing” design for its range of hydrogen-powered, emissions-free aircraft of the future. In fact, Airbus has proposed three distinct styles of aircraft for its future fleet of green aeroplanes, any one of which could make for a fantastic executive aircraft: a more conventional propeller-driven option; one with jet engines; and the blended wing version.

The use of hydrogen as fuel, and the larger size of these aircraft, mean they are likely to be among the most promising for potential executive applications. Once the technological kinks are worked out, hydrogen will allow for much faster, further flight – and the large cabins of these planes will be able to compete with some of the top executive aircraft on the market. And if Airbus proves it can make this work, you can expect other manufacturers to follow in short order. One or more of the concepts is expected in service by 2035.

Tecnam’s P-Volt electric aircraft is another up-and-coming regional player based on the Italian manufacturer’s already successful P2012 nine-seater aeroplane. While we don’t yet know what many of the specs will be, it’s expected it will run on batteries, and the plan is to offer rapid battery swap on the ground so that the aircraft doesn’t need to sit around charging between missions. As such, this is one to watch, and it's due to arrive this decade.

“The aviation world was dreaming of a new nine-seater aircraft to replace hundreds of legacy twin piston aircraft which were designed for and delivered to the market 40 or more years ago, and Tecnam made this dream reality,” says Fabio Russo, head of R&D and product development, from the firm’s Capua plant. “The P-Volt is foreseen as the fulcrum of the Tecnam project zero in its road map to decarbonisation. This is the next dream that Tecnam is already making reality or, to paraphrase the movie Inception, it is a ‘dream within a dream’.” One or more of the concepts expected in service by 2035.

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Pipistrel Miniliner

Conceived as a 20-seater regional aircraft by Pipistrel, a Slovenian-based company emerging as a leader in light electric aircraft, this propeller-driven plane promises to fly up to around 1,000 kilometres with unparalleled economics, emissions-free. Imagining it in a six-seat executive configuration, therefore, is not a stretch. Naturally the range could be a limiting factor, but for those who don’t need to go far, it could be an interesting solution.

“The Miniliner concept is targeted to address multi-modal mobility needs by activating small airports as a zero-emission travel node [intersection],” says Dr Tine Tomaži, CTO at Pipistrel, noting that it’s mainly aimed at the regional commercial market for now. But imagine what such a plane could do for your business.

It’s not just about being a zero-emission aircraft. According to Pipistrel, it will also be “capable of operating quietly from 800-metre runways, including grass airstrips at small aerodromes. These planes have therefore the potential to disrupt aerial mobility.” There’s lower operating costs and smaller overall footprint, too. Tomaži cites “40 per cent better direct operating cost economy, at noise levels below 70dBA”.

We don’t yet know for sure what fuel it will run on, but it’s looking as if hydrogen may be the eventual choice. 

Credit: Heart Aerospace

Heart Aerospace ES-19

A Swedish propeller-driven aircraft aimed at regional air travel, the attractive ES-19 also promises to make for a comfortable and eco-friendly option by 2026. There’s one catch, however: the fully electric plane will initially only have a range of about 400 kilometres. Still, for certain short-range missions, that will be enough. For example, if you run a company with bases in neighbouring European cities, with frequent travel in between, the ES-19 could offer a greener alternative to lengthy car journey for shuttling executives back and forth. And we can be sure that as Heart’s aircraft develops, that range will only increase.

The aircraft can take 19 passengers in a commercial configuration, so fitting it out in a comfortable six- or eight-passenger layout could make sense. Add to that the quiet electric motors and much lower maintenance requirements inherent in electric engines, on top of the green credentials, and you have a potentially very promising executive aircraft. Due to arrive in 2026.

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Tecnam P-Volt
Credit: Tecnam

Tecnam P-Volt

Tecnam’s P-Volt electric aircraft is another up-and-coming regional player based on the Italian manufacturer’s already successful P2012 nine-seater aeroplane. While we don’t yet know what many of the specs will be, it’s expected it will run on batteries, and the plan is to offer rapid battery swap on the ground so that the aircraft doesn’t need to sit around charging between missions. As such, this is one to watch.

“The aviation world was dreaming of a new nine-seater aircraft to replace hundreds of legacy twin piston aircraft which were designed for and delivered to the market 40 or more years ago, and Tecnam made this dream reality,” says Fabio Russo, head of R&D and product development, from the firm’s Capua plant. “The P-Volt is foreseen as the fulcrum of the Tecnam project zero in its road map to decarbonisation. This is the next dream that Tecnam is already making reality or, to paraphrase the movie Inception, it is a ‘dream within a dream’.” Due to arrive this decade.

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