Key takeaway: The single most important support that the current administration can provide to advance electric aviation is funding and providing resources to the FAA to make this happen.
Ground charging infrastructure
Unlike petroleum-based aviation, electric aviation will require completely new ground infrastructure to be installed at airports. Electric aviation breaks the traditional economics of fixed based operators and airports fueling aircraft and replaces this with new economics and return on investment. For a substantial period of time, electric aviation, sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), and even hydrogen-based aviation fuels will be operating side-by-side and must be addressed by the market to achieve decarbonized objectives.
If we are to get electric aviation off the ground, the ground charging infrastructure must be in place at airports and non-airport locations in advance of the routes being flown. So building the ground charging infrastructure is a must—yet the payback for this advanced investment is uncertain. The level of activity during the demonstration or proving out phase of EAs will be relatively low. Further, advances in battery technology and fast charging stations may well make the initial investment obsolete shortly after installed. Yet this investment must be made in order to launch this industry. This has been a similar challenge for solar and for development of an electric vehicle (EV) charging network. Federal and state governments extended a combination of grants, loan guarantees, subsidies, and other incentive support to these technologies. The same rational and level of support needed to develop EVs and solar must be applied to electric aviation. And EA charging must be organized as a public-private partnership to make it happen soon.
Key takeaway: This country must encourage the building of a network of ground charging stations at airports and non-airport locations in anticipation of electric aviation as a step in speeding up the move to decarbonized travel.
A final hurdle to the launch of electric aviation is creating profitable operator business models. Being able to fly an EA is one thing. Being able to operate it profitably in competition to existing petroleum-based aviation is another. OEMs must convince operators that EAs are commercially reliable and financially attractive. While direct operating costs for EA will be significantly less to operators (fuel and maintenance), ownership costs of new technology aircraft, particularly for launch airlines, will be daunting. Manufacturing the first-generation aircraft will be costly and until EAs can be produced at significant scale; the price per copy may well be non-economic.
Obsolescence is also a major risk for launch airlines. Commercial aircraft traditional have had very long lives, with only incremental changes in technology over 20-30 years. Electric aviation is in its infancy and with major leaps in technology and functionality anticipated. This ownership risk in adoption of the technology needs to be addressed by the public sector.
Key takeaway: If the current administration wants to launch decarbonized air travel, they will need to make a commitment to early adopters to reducing the ownership risk of buying first generation electric aircraft—similar to the support provided to other decarbonizing technologies (e.g., solar, wind power, EVs).
Addressing each of these areas must be the combined effort of the public and the private sectors. This must be a collaborative effort joining the creativity of the private sector and the long-term perspective and decarbonized goals of the public sector. Together, we can achieve something truly revolutionary in the field of flight transportation.