London-Paris electric flight 'in decade'

Wright One plane Image copyright Wright Electric
Image caption A mock-up of the Wright One, Wright Electric’s plan for short-haul, electric-powered flight

A new start-up says that it intends to offer an electric-powered commercial flight from London to Paris in 10 years.

Its plane, yet to go into development, would carry 150 people on journeys of less than 300 miles.

Wright Electric said by removing the need for jet fuel, the price of travel could drop dramatically.

British low-cost airline Easyjet has expressed its interest in the technology.

"Easyjet has had discussions with Wright Electric and is actively providing an airline operator's perspective on the development of this exciting technology," the airline told the BBC.

However, significant hurdles need to be overcome if Wright Electric is to make the Wright One, pictured above, a reality.

The company is relying heavily on innovation in battery technology continuing to improve at its current rate. If not, the firm will not be able to build in enough energy to give the plane the range it needs.

Industry experts are wary of the company's claims. Graham Warwick, technology editor of Aviation Weekly, said such technology was a "long way away".

"The battery technology is not there yet," he told the BBC.

"It's projected to come but it needs a significant improvement. Nobody thinks that is going to happen anytime soon. And there's all the [safety] certification - those rules are yet to be created, and that takes time."

The company is yet to produce a plane of its own and is instead working alongside American inventor Chip Yates, whose own electric aircraft, the Long-ESA, holds the world record for fastest electric aircraft.

Wright Electric's competitors include aviation giant Airbus, which has been developing its electric two-seater plane E-Fan since 2014, and has stated plans to create its own short-haul electric aeroplane seating 70 to 90 passengers.

'Less loud'

Wright Electric is backed by Y Combinator, Silicon Valley's most highly-regarded start-up incubator programme. Alumni of the scheme include companies such as AirBnB, file storage company Dropbox and HR management software firm Zenefits.

Wright Electric's goal, detailed in a presentation given to potential investors on Tuesday, is to make all short-haul flights electric-powered within the next 20 years, which would be about 30% of all flights made globally.

The company said that as well as lower fuel costs for the airlines, the technology could have a major added benefit for the public.

"Depending on how it's designed, you can have an electric plane that's substantially less loud than a fuel plane," said Jeff Engler, Wright Electric's co-founder.

Batteries would be charged separately, he said, meaning planes would not have to sit on the tarmac while power is replenished.

"The way we've designed our plane is to have modular battery packs for quick swap using the same cargo container that's in a regular airplane," Mr Engler said.

"We want it to be as fast as possible, so airlines can keep their planes in the air as long as possible and cover their costs."

Other technology start-ups are seeking to innovate within the aviation industry.

Boom, a company backed by Sir Richard Branson, is developing a Concorde-like supersonic jet. It hopes to achieve London to New York in three-and-a-half hours, a journey which currently takes more than eight hours. It is expected to run test flights later this year.

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