Twenty years ago, electric or hybrid-electric cars seemed unlikely to catch on. Worries about their performance and reliability, high prices, and a lack of charging infrastructure slowed take-up even among the environmentally concerned.
That is no longer the case. Plug-in vehicles are commonplace, and – although the technicalities are more complicated and it will not happen overnight – battery-powered aviation could be next.
With manufacturers and airlines under pressure like never before to cut carbon footprints, this Paris air show was abuzz with news about electric developments – not just quirky futuristic concepts but serious commitments by leading names.
Airbus, Boeing, Embraer, Rolls-Royce and Safran are among the big players making serious commitments to electric and hybrid-electric projects, while two start-ups – VoltAero and Eviation Aircraft – both exhibited prototypes at Paris that they say are close to flight, with the latter announcing US regional airline Cape Air as the launch customer for its nine-seat Alice.
The energy around electric aircraft is similar to the one surrounding very-light jets a decade and a half ago. In the mid-2000s, a rash of innovative prototypes appeared on the market. Some flew, some even entered service, but only one has been a commercial success.
This time, however, the hype seems different. Not all aircraft displayed at Paris will survive beyond concept, but there is a real excitement about the potential of replacing combustion engines with batteries. Manufacturers and investors are putting serious money and brains behind studies.
It may only be one or two Paris shows before we see electric aircraft in the air display, and maybe a generation more until show visitors are arriving in the city on battery-powered commercial flights.