Airbus is now considering general aviation designs with up to 19 seats with hybrid-electric power after meeting with potential development partners among a small group of traditional US small aircraft manufacturers, a senior executive tells Flightglobal.
The new studies replace plans to develop a smaller, four-seat, hybrid-electric general aviation aircraft after demonstrating the propulsion technology in a future two-seat trainer and current two-seat prototype.
But the larger aircraft concept, if launched, would still serve its primary purpose as a stepping-stone towards Airbus’ long-term ambition, which is to develop a 90-seat airliner with a distributed, hybrid-electric propulsion system.
Airbus flew the prototype, battery-powered E-Fan 1.0 across the English Channel last year. A new E-Fan 1.2 with a hybrid-electric motor, including an avgas-powered “range extender," will appear at the Experimental Aircraft Association’s annual fly-in next week in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. And Airbus is developing a two-seat E-Fan 2.0 trainer for subsidiary VoltAir to operate commercially after 2017.
The next step in the E-Fan plan called for developing a four-seat version to serve the same market as the Cessna 172, except using electric power. Acknowledging a lack of experience in the general aviation market, Airbus decided to seek partnerships with US manufacturers already serving the general aviation market, says Ken McKenzie, deputy chairman and senior-vice-president of strategy and corporate development.
Airbus’s original concept for the four-seat E-Fan 4.0 was quickly deemed too small by the potential partners. “They said, ‘We think you should be thinking bigger than that,” McKenzie says. Aircraft configurations are now being considered with up to 19 seats, the maximum currently allowed under the US Federal Aviation Administration’s Part 23 category for general aviation.