The aviation industry is in the very early stages of a propulsion system revolution, with electric aircraft technology rapidly maturing from experimental to commercial applications.
Just a few years ago electric vehicles (EVs) were a rare sight, and now they are commonplace and nearly a trillion-dollar industry. The same is expected of the electric aircraft market.
Electric propulsion can reduce fuel costs by up to 90%, maintenance up to 50% and noise by 70%. (Source: Scientific American). Over 200 electric aircraft programs recognise these sustainability benefits and are working overtime to develop commercially viable solutions.
As the regional middle-mile electric aviation market becomes a reality, smaller airports should be preparing for the introduction of infrastructure required to support this new type of operation. This means being able to supply the electricity required to quickly charge batteries and get an aircraft turned around ready for its next flight.
Electric aircraft will need charging stations at distances applicable to the aircraft’s operational range. In the beginning, this will be around 75 nm, or about an hour’s flying time. And if you think range anxiety is an issue in a ground-based EV, try being airborne when the low battery light is flashing!
The widespread adoption of electric propulsion systems, particularly at the smaller end of town (think recreational and flight training operations) relies on a network of forward-thinking smaller regional airports providing suitable charging facilities.
So, what does an airport need to provide for charging an electric aircraft?
- First, a 3-phase electricity supply. (Single phase works, but longer charging times apply and will not be suitable for quick turnarounds).
- Second, the ground components to charge the actual aircraft, including high voltage chargers and cables. A global standard plug is close to being agreed upon by relevant manufacturers and regulators. These charging cables will be different to a standard EV charger to maintain aviation integrity.
- Finally, a grid-complementary solar and battery setup should be incorporated in the system if the airport is striving to have more long-term sustainable facilities.
As electric aircraft propulsion technology becomes more widespread, aircraft will need places to charge. And that means regional airports should be working out how to provide an electric charging capability in the near term if they wish to flourish in this next chapter of sustainable aviation.
Image source: Electro.Aero
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