With global climate change taking center stage at the recently completed UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, the airline industry is accelerating its quest for greener ways to fly.
Nearly every major airline has outlined plans for increasing its use of sustainable aviation fuel, or SAF. In the US, carriers are taking various approaches to SAF, including investing in production facilities on the supply side and encouraging use on the demand side.
United Airlines, for example, is investing in carbon capture technology and sustainable fuels to propel it toward a pledge of carbon neutrality by 2050. The airline is partnering with some of its large corporate customers in its Eco-Skies Alliance to buy approximately 3.4 million gallons of SAF this year.
For its part, Delta Air Lines has a medium-term goal to replace 10 percent of its jet fuel with SAF by 2030. On the demand side, Delta’s SAF partnership agreements, launched in 2021, enable corporate customers to offset their business travel while building SAF demand.
Meanwhile, members of the Oneworld Alliance have pledged support for the Clean Skies for Tomorrow Coalition’s commitment to 10 percent SAF by 2030, and Boeing has set a goal of making all new commercial aircraft deliveries “capable and certified to fly on 100 percent sustainable aviation fuels by 2030.”
While longer-range aircraft are likely to rely on burning up some kind of combustible fuel for the foreseeable future, developers are increasingly fielding electric-powered flight solutions that are ideal for shorter haul operations. The concepts may look and sound futuristic, but they’ve been in testing for years.
Major players such as Airbus, Boeing, Embraer, along with a number of startups, are building the market for electric vertical takeoff and landing, or eVTOL, aircraft, attracting investment dollars and orders from airlines. Here is a brief look at a few of the players in the eVTOL space.
Earlier this year, United Airlines announced a deal with Archer Aviation to accelerate the development of battery-powered short-haul electric aircraft. United said that once the eVTOL aircraft are in operation, it would acquire a fleet of 200 of the aircraft, targeting a launch of consumer flights in 2024.
In addition, United also inked a conditional agreement for 100 ES-19 electric aircraft from Gothenburg, Sweden-based startup Heart Aerospace. The 19-seat aircraft may reach the market as early as 2026, operating on more than 100 of United’s regional routes.
American Airlines is investing $25 million in Vertical Aerospace, an engineering and aeronautical business developing eVTOLs. As part of its investment, American expects to make a $1 billion pre-order of up to 250 aircraft, with an additional 100-plane option.
Brazilian domestic carrier Azul and electric aircraft manufacturer Lilium Air Mobility have announced a $1 billion deal to establish a network of eVTOL aircraft across the country, with Azul purchasing and operating 220 seven-seater Lilium Jets beginning in 2025.
London-based Halo Aviation Ltd. became the launch customer for Melbourne, FL-based Eve Urban Air Mobility Solutions with a firm order for 200 eVTOL aircraft. The aircraft have an expected delivery date of 2026. Halo is a provider of helicopter and private urban air mobility travel services in the US and the UK.
Late last year, Ampaire, a developer of electric aviation solutions, completed a demonstration flight of its hybrid electric Electric EEL aircraft along an actual airline route between island destinations in Hawaii. The six-seat aircraft took the 20-minute flight from Maui’s Kahului Airport across the island to Hana and back on a single charge.
It was the first use of a hybrid-electric aircraft under the FAA’s Experimental-Market Survey category, and the company says the combination reduced fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by approximately 40-50 percent.
In February, the electric aviation startup announced it was being acquired by Surf Air Mobility, a regional air travel provider, that was one of Ampaire’s target customers.