EasyJet partner starts developing engine for electric plane

LONDON (Reuters) - British airline easyJet has moved a step closer to commercial electric flying on short-haul routes after its partner said it would begin development of engines for its electric narrow-body aircraft.

FILE PHOTO: An Easyjet plane takes off from Manchester Airport in Manchester, Britain January 20, 2020. REUTERS/Phil Noble

Fully electric planes will only be able to fly relatively short distances, but could be a key part of the aviation industry’s bid to cut its carbon emissions.

Wright Electric said on Thursday it was working to develop electrical systems that were big enough for a commercial flight of its 186-seat electric aircraft, and would build a 1.5 megawatt electric motor.

EasyJet wants electric planes to fly routes of about 500 km, which means it could use the aircraft on London to Amsterdam, Europe’s second-busiest route.

It partnered with Wright Electric in 2017 to explore the prospects for short-haul electric commercial flying. Wright said it intended to conduct ground tests of its motor in 2021 and flight tests in 2023.

“This is another crucial step for our partner Wright Electric to move towards the introduction of commercial electric aircraft and it is exciting to see their ambitious timeline for testing and entry into service,” easyJet Chief Executive Johan Lundgren said.

The aviation industry is under pressure to find more sustainable ways of operating as environmental groups encourage people not to fly and seek greener alternatives.

The Swedish-born “flight shaming” movement, led by activists including teenager Greta Thunberg, has weakened demand for air travel in Europe over the last year.

Lundgren, who is also from Sweden, announced last year that easyJet would pay for carbon-offsetting of all its flights but said that such measures were only an interim solution until new technologies were developed.

“We know it is important to our customers that we operate as sustainably as possible,” he said.

“We can see more clearly than ever a future that is not exclusively reliant on jet fuel.”

Reporting by Alistair Smout; editing by Stephen Addison