Electric and solar-powered flight

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Last week, Just about Travel ran two stories about air travel. The first posed the question about whether we should fly and the second was on the complete switch in the attitude of the Scottish government from wanting to cut it Air Departure Tax to wanting to keep it to dissuade flyers from flying too much.

A design for the easyJet/Wright Electric plane. Image easyJet

To repeat myself, the UK is made up of islands meaning either a ship or a plane is often the only choice to leaving or arriving.

When Ken Clarke as Chancellor of the Exchequer introduced APD in 1994, some saw it as a green tax but I doubt whether that was in the thinking in the treasury. It hasn’t inhibited us flying so, if we are to reduce carbon emissions by flying less, a tax looks to be ineffective unless it was raised by something fantastic such as ten or twelve times the current amount. What politician would take that view and still win votes?

International travel is very important for jobs and the economies of many countries. Look at the ramifications on Tunisia when British visitors were effectively banned from going there.

It seems that for world economic reasons we should continue to fly so what is the solution? Aircraft manufacturers have cut emissions but probably not enough to counter the increased growth in travel. Bigger planes like the A380 were thought of as a solution because every passenger’s carbon footprint would be less than those flying on smaller planes. But airlines seem to be falling out of love with the A380. Newly designed planes carry many fewer passengers suggesting a higher carbon footprint per passenger despite fuel efficiencies brought on by technological development. The ICAO suggests that by 2050, the amount of emissions from flights will be treble what it is now even allowing for more fuel-efficient engines

Could it be that we need to be more pro-active and, just as some countries have said there will be no more diesel or petrol cars after certain dates, we say that all planes flying after 2035 (for example) must be electric or solar powered (not hybrids) or have to have an agreed very low set of emissions?

Wright Electric, a US company is working on developing an electric-poered 150 seat plane that will be able to fly 300 miles. It thinks that it will have that plane running in 10-20 years and is in talks with easyJet about the future. NASA is develping an all-electric plane and probably so are all the major airline manufacturers

Aircraft manufacturers might say that giving them fifteen years to develop a plane is insufficient but surely that must be dismissed if we are really serious about reducing carbon emissions. If you try and reach international agreement to take this stance it could take years to achieve unanimity so a country might have to take the lead. But which country will be the first to impose such a rule? Can one country be that crucial in altering aviation development? The answer is probably no unless it were to be the USA or China. But the EU could and that might propel other countries to sign up as well.

It comes down to the fact that uncomfortable decisions have to be made.  

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