Alongside the stories of Ryanair and Monarch’s woes in the last few weeks have been excited posts on the potential of electric flight, following Easyjet’s announcement that it hopes to be able to fly battery powered short haul flights within a decade. In principle, any development that makes a flight less carbon intensive is to be welcomed as a step in the right direction. Any airline with a long term vision that extends beyond the end of the runway will be investing in this. However, it does not offer the sustainable solution that it is often presented as being.
First, it won’t happen soon enough. Easyjet’s announcement is for flights carrying passengers on 300 mile journeys to be viable by 2027. This is an aspiration, which may or may not come to pass. Jet fuel is currently around 50x more energy dense than the best lithium batteries we have. So while it might be possible to dramatically narrow that gap in a decade, it’s still a long way off reality. And it does nothing about the emissions caused by all the planes currently flying, or flying in the years between now and then. According to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the “global air transport network” doubles in size at least once every 15 years, and it’s predicted to do so again by 2030. The time to be reducing our carbon emissions is now.
Second, it won’t have any impact on the vast majority of flight emissions anyway. I’ve struggled to find precise and up to date figures, but in 2006 the Economist said that four fifths of emissions were from Long Haul. Earlier this year, Airportwatch said that the European Commission’s decision to only include flights within Europe in its emissions trading programme, means 75% of flight emissions were not included. Whatever the exact percentages for long haul vs short haul – the point remains the same, even if we can have battery powered flights for short trips by 2027, that still leaves the vast majority of the industry’s emissions unaffected….
This is an excerpt from an article first published by WTM.