Electric aviation – the decarbonisation potential in Europe
June 3, 2022
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  • Electric aviation for journeys of up to 90 minutes offers significant carbon reduction potential, a new study from electronics distributor Distrelec has found. 

    The study, drawing on recent reports that electric planes can travel up to 90 minutes on a single charge and that half of international flights are under 800km in length, aims to identify the flight routes around Europe that are the most promising for full electrification – or as Distrelec would have it those most likely to be adapted to be fully electric. 

    Of course, it is primarily a theoretical exercise as the electric (and/or hydrogen-powered) planes that would be required for the flights do not exist and if they did, they would need to be charged with zero emission electricity. But nevertheless, it sheds some insights on how air travel may evolve in the future. 

    That is, without taking account of a potential shift to high speed rail for regional flights that the IEA advocated in its Net Zero by 2050 roadmap – or as is being planned in France, the axing of short domestic flights where rail alternatives exist. 

    Starting with the UK, the shortest of over 100 flights considered is between Belfast and the Isle of Man, taking an average 38 minutes and emitting 36kg of CO2 per passenger. In 2019, 19,808 passengers used the flight, which with the use of electric flights could have saved 752t CO2, the study found. 

    Domestic flights across the UK from Heathrow and Gatwick in the south to Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen in Scotland are other candidates, as are flights between Heathrow and Dublin, Paris, Amsterdam, Antwerp and Cologne, with the CO2 emissions on these ranging from 57kg to 84kg per passenger. 

    In all according to the study, based on flights from 2019 a total of 2.7Mt of CO2 could be saved if the UK domestic flights went electric. 

    Elsewhere in Europe 

    Turning to France the study identifies 36 domestic flights that could make the first shift to electric aviation. The shortest between Lyon and Marseille, a distance of 258km, currently emits an average 48kg CO2 per person, which scaled up to 148 passenger seats for a total of 171 flights corresponds to 1,200 tonnes CO2 that could be saved by making the flight electric. 

    Germany is another country with numerous flights that could be electrified and nine potential flights in Spain, three in Italy and three in Denmark and Sweden also were identified. 

    “With electric planes being close to a commercial breakthrough, the future of travel could look very different,” states Adam Jeffery, Product Manager for Power Supplies and Semiconductors at Distrelec, in the study’s report. 

    “This transformation of the industry will see a big change in the emissions and carbon footprint.”