Air travel has been slow to adopt clean energy, but while the next generation of aviators waits for commercial airlines to move away from fossil fuels, it doesn’t mean they can’t train with lower carbon emissions.
Tine Tomažič, chief technology officer at Pipistrel Slovenia, says that while the Velis Electro offers a range of advantages over regular aircraft, a key attraction is that many of the fundamentals remain the same.
“You can literally take this airplane home and use it from day one for whatever you were using other non-electric powered airplanes for before,” he tells CNN Business.
Buying into a greener future
Since it was launched in 2020, Pipistrel says it has sold around 100 of the electric planes, priced at €175,000 ($175,500).
Around 30% of the flying hours required for a commercial pilot’s license take place in the electric aircraft, Johan Norberg, head of flight training at the academy, tells CNN.
There is “a huge difference” in operational energy cost, he says, estimating a 40-minute flight in the Velis Electro uses $2 to $3 of renewable electricity, compared to roughly $45 of aviation gasoline for the same flight in a traditional single-engine training aircraft, like a Cessna 172, using a Lycoming O-360 engine.
Pipistrel says batteries need to be replaced after around 2,000 flight hours (an indicator on the batteries says exactly when) and the price for a new pair is approximately $20,000.
Even with the cost of replacing batteries, Norberg estimates the electric aircraft is cheaper to run than the academy’s diesel counterpart, although he adds that “the long-term operational costs are still to be verified.”
A potential $40 billion industry
In addition to shorter flights, qualifying for a private license requires pilots to undertake two-hour flights, says Norberg, which aren’t currently possibly in the Velis Electro. But developing the next generation of electric aircraft with longer flight times could mean that within a few years, pilots might be able to train entirely without burning fossil fuel.
The Velis Electro is currently awaiting approval for commercial use in the US by the Federal Aviation Administration, but it is already being flown privately.
While trainee pilots are now getting the opportunity to fly green, large aircraft have yet to be weaned off fossil fuels, and zero-carbon long-haul and cargo flight is a way off. But Tomažič is hopeful that won’t always be the case.
“What (the) Velis Electro is already doing today is training the generation of pilots who will fly these large green aviation products of the future,” he says.
“Not only is it representing a change in technology applied to training, but it is definitely changing the mindset of future pilots who inevitably will want to fly cleaner, electrified airplanes as part of their pilot careers.”