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The Future Of Air Travel? It’s Electric.

Rendering of an electric plane.
Rendering of an electric plane.

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Much like the automotive industry, the aerospace industry sees the writing on the wall, and it says that in the not-too-distant future, airplanes will be powered by electricity instead of fossil fuels.

In many ways, a shift from combustion engines in aircraft to hybrid-electric or completely electric propulsion is a logical next step. Carmakers are already several years-worth of models into the age of the electric vehicle and are showing no signs of slowing down. Some companies, like Hawthorne-based Ampaire, are even using parts designed for hybrid cars to modify their aircraft. But don’t expect to be seeing any jumbo jets that you’d fly across the country or the world with electric or even hybrid-electric engines anytime soon. For now, the technology available means most of the companies in this space are focused on shorter, regional routes, typically under 100 miles in range and with 20 or fewer passengers. But there’s no denying the potential for the cost-savings that a sustainable aircraft would provide. According to Ampaire’s website, electric aircraft would offer a 90 percent cut in fuel costs and a 50 percent cut in maintenance costs. Urban Air Mobility could be one of the first use cases of electric aviation due to range limitation of purely electric aircraft. Airspace Experience Technologies, a Detroit based aviation startup is designing and testing an electric 5 passenger tilt-wing vertical takeoff and landing aircraft for this purpose.

Today on AirTalk, Larry talks with the founders of two startups that are researching and developing very different types of hybrid-electric and electric aircraft to find out how big this burgeoning industry for sustainable aviation is, what some of the major regulatory and engineering hurdles are and how close society is to actually seeing these kinds of aircraft in the skies.


Kevin Noertker, CEO and co-founder of Ampaire, a company based in Hawthorne, California that is researching and developing fixed-wing zero emission aircraft; he tweets @KevinNoertker

Anita Sengupta, co-founder and chief product officer for Airspace Experience Technologies (ASX), a company based in Detroit, Michigan developing electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft; she tweets @Doctor_Astro