Finavia: Electric Airliners By The End Of The Decade

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Finavia, the entity responsible for maintaining public airports in Finland, has joined the Network for Electric Aviation and predicts that electric airliners will be used on domestic routes before the decade is out. This move, along with the funding of electric-aircraft research and development, is part of Finavia’s aggressive climate program aimed at decreasing CO2 emissions at airports. 

“Electric-powered aircraft will likely be a vital part of tackling the environmental challenges of the aviation industry. As an airport operator we want to find out what kind of development electric flying will require from our airports,” said Henri Hansson, technical director at Finavia. “I believe that in Finland, the first electric passenger aircraft will fly on a domestic route by the end of 2020s. If a clean method such as wind or solar power is used to produce the necessary electricity, the electric aircraft of the future could fly completely emission-free. Electric aircraft will be suited especially for short routes.”

Finavia’s announcement comes just ahead of meetings with Finnair to “discuss electric aviation in workshops. The topics include standardizing electric air infrastructure in the Nordic countries and developing aircraft technology for Nordic weather conditions.”

“NEA is a Nordic network that works with both infrastructure, industry issues and new business models. We aim at highlighting the necessary aspects needed to provide credible roadmap towards Nordic electric aviation,” said NEA’s project manager, Maria Fiskerud. According to the company, NEA is made up of Nordic airport operators, airlines, and start-ups “specialized in electric aviation.”

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39 COMMENTS

  1. “If a clean method such as wind or solar power is used to produce the necessary electricity, the electric aircraft of the future could fly completely emission-free.”

    And how will the aircraft get all of that emission-free energy? A long extension cord? Seriously.

  2. “is part of Finavia’s aggressive climate program aimed at decreasing CO2 emissions at airports. ”

    But if India and China increase their production of CO2 during the same time frame, what is the logical and measurable benefit of this project in Finland?

    • Presumably the technology developed would be used outside of Finland too.

      The big hurdle will be how one stores the required electricity on board the aircraft while still having reasonable payload, range, and speed. And without introducing a new fire risk (e.g. 787 lithium-ion battery fires).

      • Globally, aviation produced 2.4 percent of total CO2 emissions in 2018

        If the time frame is 10 years to develop the systems, 10-15 years to develop the production aircraft, and another 10 years to make a dent in replacing other aircraft, then you can start to bring down the total percentage to below 2.4%.

        it makes more ecological sense NOT to work on aircraft if your end game is global co2 reduction. Q.E.D.

        • Yes, but if aviation globally is facing being limited or banned because of its “environmental impact”, and finding a way to reduce its impact keeps aviation flying, then it’s still not a wasted effort.

          I don’t dispute aviation as a whole isn’t a huge polluter, but sometimes a false perception is more convincing than the truth.

          • The English dictionary defines those who cling to false perceptions (despite reality or rational argument) as “delusional”. The planet deserves better than chasing windmills and whimsy.

          • Just over 100 years ago, building a heavier-than-air vehicle was considered chasing windmills and whimsy. And it was the same thought until a few years later about building a helicopter. And just over 50 years ago, building a vehicle that could carry people to the moon was considered chasing windmills and whimsy.

            The point is, everything is impossible until it’s proven not to be. If people want to work on building electric aircraft, let them try. I think the time-frame is unrealistic, but it seemed unrealistic to go from barely getting into orbit to landing and returning from the moon in a decade too.

        • Your short but spot on comment is the one that wins THIS blog IMHO, Mark. Even if you espouse CO2 reduction as something that’s important (I don’t), trying to reduce it by inventing electric powered short haul airliners in Finland ain’t gonna do diddly … especially given the explosive growth of poopulation (sic) in China and India who don’t care. If the Finns want to spend THEIR money trying … more power to ’em. Within the subset of aviation we mostly know — GA — there is SO much room for both fuel improvement if only the people on Independence Ave in DC would wake up and get out of our way. The Rotax iS engines are but one example of what could be done if they’d get off of their butts and work with us vs against us.

          And there’s another issue involved with trying to tell us that a battery powered airliner will work in Finland … temperatures. I spent two months in Bodo, Norway (near Murmansk) with the F-16 European Test & Evaluation Team in 1979. I could bore you for hours with the horror stories we faced trying to deal with cold. So I imagine the battery packs in those Finnish airliners will have to be heated to keep them efficient? So how efficient is THAT?

          Building electric cars where building an electric support network is economically possible is one thing. Trying to tell me that electric airliners are going to be anything but an oddity is nothing more than dreaming.

          • “If a clean method such as wind or solar power is used to produce the necessary electricity, the electric aircraft of the future could fly completely emission-free.”

            Yeah, and if a frog had wings it wouldn’t bump its ass when it hopped. Dreams built on wishes.

    • Shells on the floor.
      Assume that all of the energy needed to power 20,000 airliners is both emissions-free and ZERO-cost.
      HOW are you going to put any of that energy aboard an aircraft, to make it fly?
      It’s a fair – and obvious – question.
      Pass the salt, please.

      • Good point. If only there were some sort of technology that would enable one to store electrical energy for later use. If only this technology could be used to power any type of electrical or electronic device. Imagine the possibilities! If someone were to invent such a technology I imagine they could become quite wealthy. Of course I imagine that if such a thing were possible then there would be lots of people working on it. In fact, with the potential demand, I would think that there would be a lot of people working on ways to not only make this possible, but to constantly be improving on it so that it could one day be possible to carry a lot of this electric energy in just about any kind of vehicle, possibly even to power that vehicle. We could even use it to power a whole host of portable devices. Imagine the ability to carry a computer anywhere you go and use it without requiring a nearby power source. I’d be able to write this comment without having to be tied down to my desktop computer. And perhaps one day we could have phones that we could carry around with us so we wouldn’t need wires to communicate.

        I know, I’m a dreamer. What can you do. In the mean time I heard something about a vehicle you can own that does not require a horse for locomotion. I’m curious to see where that technology goes.

          • Alex:
            Who are you – Adam Schiff? 😉
            First, I never said “it never will be available.” I don’t do that.

            What I DO say is “do not RELY on anything that is unavailable.” Example: a 777-X that sits around for a year, waiting for engines that are… unavailable.
            Example: an electric airliner that sits around for (???), waiting for batteries that are… vaporware.
            Can a 100x improvement in battery technology happen? Maybe. Maybe not. Faith is “belief in the absence of evidence.” Good engineering doesn’t include faith. Religion requires it.
            Much of today’s “green movement” is a religion. I’m an agnostic.

          • You do not need 100x improvement in battery technology. Fossil fuel energy density is currently 40x that of commercially available Li-ION batteries, which have an energy density of about 250 Whr/kg. SInce electric motors are better than 90% efficient, Then a 12x imporvement in battery energy density would give you electric propulsion equal to that of an ICE engine.

            Now consider that electric aircraft has enabled new aerodynamic designs that have may improve efficiency by up to 500%. Future electric aircraft designs would then ffurther reduce this energy density requirement from 12x to less than 3x! Let’s be conservative and say we’d like to see a 6x improvement in energy density to consider this feasible.

            Well guess what. That is NOT unobtanium. Current research in Li-CO2 and Li-S batteries is leading to designs that will have energy densities of 1300 Whr/Kg which is better than 5x current Li-Ion technology and the theoretical limit of these chemistries is up to a whopping 2600 WHr/kg!

            OXIS energy has just reported that they are already at 500 and set a new target of 600 (https://insideevs.com/news/394309/oxis-cells-almost-500-wh-kg/). At this rate, I can certainly see a 5x or even 7x improvement in battery energy density in 10 years.

            YARS has no vision, and that is sad. What’s even more baffling is that he says no research should take place on electric aircraft until the battery technology hits these levels, but that would have two drawbacks. First, it would delay improvement in overall aircraft designs, and second, it would reduce the current demand for battery technology which would take away R&D dollars that are driving the improvement in energy density.

            None of this is religion. This is progress and it’s also disruptive technology. Disruptions DO NOT occur in small serialized steps. They are the result of a convergence of compounding factors that all hit a nexus point where they start to grow together.

            I’m sure you historical counterpart considered the horseless carriage to be a waste of time because where would you get gasoline at that time when there were still plenty of field on the side of the road for fine grazing for your horse?

          • “YARS has no vision, and that is sad. What’s even more baffling is that he says no research should take place on electric aircraft until the battery technology hits these levels.” -Daniel T.

            1. I never said that, Mr. Schiff.
            2. Feel free to conduct all of the research that you like. I won’t try to stop you. But – if you’re an engineer, instead of a True Believer – be prepared to experience substantial disappointment.
            3. A five-fold decrease in drag? Are you serious?
            4. Motor efficiency is one thing. Propeller efficiency is quite another. Shall we RELY upon a five-fold increase there, too?

            Crippled as it is, my vision is not clouded by faith. Does that qualify it for myopia standards?

          • Calling me Mr. Schiff explains a lot about you and your MAGA tendencies. So I now understand your aversion to progress.

            But that said, I have a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and a master’s degree in distributed information systems engineering. I also have 27 years experience as a technology consultant and have lived through two major periods of disruptive technology, so I’ve gotten pretty good at recognizing a disruptive pattern when I see one.

            And as for 500% improvement in aerodynamic efficiency? Well, don’t take my word for it. I am referring to the R&D work that NASA is doing on the X-57 Maxwell project (https://www.slashgear.com/nasas-x-57-electric-plane-is-one-big-step-closer-to-takeoff-11599170/). I’m guessing that being a MAGA guy you have little regard for real science and probably think engineers at NASA are basing their research on faith. I mean, what would they know? It’s not like they are smart enough to put a guy on the moon or anything. Oh, wait….

            But, OK, you can choose to ignore these facts and the fact that there are 215 electric aircraft projects under way right now (https://www.rolandberger.com/en/Point-of-View/Electric-propulsion-is-finally-on-the-map.html). You don’t have that kind of volume occurring unless there is a real promise of the viability of the technology. This is a typical disruptive pattern. We are at the bottom of the S curve just rounding out the point where the progress hockey sticks. And there will be a sh*t load of capital going into these projects. And just like every other period of disruptive change, there will be a time when 1,000’s of projects will eventually yield to a handful of actual viable products. But those will be superior products.

            This is not faith (I am an atheist, I don’t subscribe to faith). This is actual observation. Battery technology is beginning to progress at breakneck speed. New companies are coming up with clean-sheet designs that leverage the benefits of moving toward a new type of propulsion. Progress is happening in several areas, and all of these areas will converge. 10 years from now we WILL have electric airplanes flying. We will have it because there is a critical mass of operators who want it. They want it because it promises a very attractive ROI, not just from reduced energy costs, but from the massive reduction in maintenance costs. And if there is one thing I have learned from my years in technology and engineering, just about anything is actually possible, but it’s the economics that determines whether or not it’s worth the effort to pursue the investment. The ROIs that electric aviation promises is driving massive investment, so it will happen because the market WANTS it to happen. 30 years ago no one would have believed that it would be possible to carry a phone in your pocket that would be able to connect with anyone in the world without having to be connected to any wires. But virtually every science fiction move showed people using such devices, which means that people dreamed about owning such devices. The result was a potential market that warranted the massive investment in R&D to make it possible. There are enough people who want electric aviation for a multitude of reasons, so the R&D dollars will ensure that it will happen. And it IS happening. Pipestrel already proved it can work on a small scale using current battery technology. 10 years from now when battery energy density is almost 10x what it is now this will scale accordingly.

            Despite your myopia, this is happening.

          • Daniel:
            Schiff is most famous for attributing quotes to people who never uttered them. If the shoe fits…

            MAGA? That’s your assessment? Fair enough. I’ll give you a little context. Retired, international-award-winning design engineer, who spent 45 years on the bleeding edge of a variety of technologies. A Cold Warrior whose efforts contribute to your continued existence on this planet. You’re welcome.

            Free advice: do not RELY on non-existent technology. Hope for it. Dream about it. Work toward achieving it. Just don’t rely upon it. Reliance upon the non-existent is an expression of faith. Unlike yourself, I am not an atheist. I am an Agnostic. I lack the certainty that it would take to be an atheist. I’m very comfortable with saying “I don’t know.” That has served me and my clients quite well.

            Proud to be a Deplorable, though. Of that, I’m certain.

        • Yars … don’t argue with this guy … he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. The X-57 Maxwell is a proof-of-concept airplane aimed at testing a few ideas involving electric propulsion. It has ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with aerodynamic efficiency improvements AND it’s seriously behind on it’s promised timeline, too. How you can go from testing electric propulsion and say that the machine will produce a 500% increase in aerodynamic efficiency is proof positive that he’s a graduate of Mail Order Univ in the Tenderloin District of SFO.

        • 500% increase in aerodynamic efficiency? That would be the equivalent to the advance from the Wright Brothers’ 1902 glider at +/- 6:1 L/D to what became regularly attainable for production gliders of the early 60s, +/- 30:1. Since the 60s, we’ve gotten to (optimistically) 42:1 on the top-performing types of production gliders – or, an improvement of +/- 40%. This in the most efficient of all flying machines. If a 500% improvement was out there to be realized, the glider mfrs would have found and exploited it, long before now and long before the e-power acolytes.

      • NO, Raf … Unrealistically optimistic.

        This idea of electric airplanes powered by batteries is the biggest crock of all. You have to CARRY those batteries around whether they are fully charged or discharged. How efficient is THAT? It might be OK for a light training airplane that stays in the local pattern but not for moving the masses. Many years ago — I wish I had the link — a Boeing engineer calculated the cost of just ONE fastener around for the life cycle of the airliner. It was a helluva lot more than one would imagine. I guess that’s why some low frills airlines make you pay for bags carried. Now extrapolate to the weight of heavy batteries being carried around … not to forget the space those batteries take up.

        I urge everyone to watch this one hour interview with Burt Rutan on the subject of climate change. HIS position — based upon analysis of climate data, et al — is that the slight increases in global temperature and CO2 is actually good … predominantly because the growing seasons are longer and more food for the growing masses can be produced. Also, trees “eat” CO2 and produce oxygen. Everyone is treating CO2 as if it is the worst thing ever … he says it’s not.

        Watch the Burt Rutan video … it is time WELL spent:
        youtube.com/watch?v=jPP7P43wulg

        A couple of years ago, I attended a forum at Oshkosh by George Bye who was touting HIS electric airplane. Well … when is the last time anyone saw anything written about HIM here on Avweb?

        I summer in a very rural part of Wisconsin where we get electrical energy from a Coop. All Coops produce a nice monthly magazine with occasional good articles. This month, they were bemoaning the fact that people are conserving electrical energy (LED bulbs, more efficient heating, etc) and so their profit margins are going down. It’s the same thing as the Government directing car manufacturers to produce cars that get phenomenal fuel mileage. So people are using less gasoline and the Government then gets less revenue from taxation for the roads. Any time the Government gets its hand into anything, they NEVER have a long term ‘systems’ plan … they just react.

        If Finnavia wants to waste its money on an electric airliner … so be it. But if they’re using Finnish Government kroner … that’s a whole different story.

  3. I love the 327 cubic inch V8 growl in my pickup, the small Continental bark on my vintage fun airplane and the Rolls rumble which muscles my work airplane through the air. But I’m prepared for all these wonderful sounds to become quaint weekend blasts from the past within my lifetime. The 4K computer where I worked as a janitor while in college required an entire room while the rather outdated 64GB mobile phone currently in the palm of my hand is infinitely more capable. Who woulda thunk it? I am fully convinced that we truly don’t know what we don’t know about future technological capability and its rate of change. And yes, that includes what could happen as early as the end of this decade in electrical energy storage technology. Google Moore’s Law and apply it to technology in general.

    • Moore’s Law is about continuous improvement of photo-reduction of silicon circuit fabrication. It does not apply to “technology in general.” If it did, then the newest airplanes would fly twice as high, twice as far, and twice as fast, every 18 months.

      Miracles may happen; they may not. But reliance upon the occurrence of miracles is not engineering – it’s religion.

    • I love my new boring Toyota.
      It should run for well over 200,000 miles, gets great mpg, requires minimal maintenance, and is not that much more than $20K new. The problem for Electrics is that modern gas cars HAVE advanced so much over the years.

  4. The technology of efficiency regarding engines and motors has been astounding. I don’t have to drive a boring car to get great gas mileage with low emissions. I get great fuel economy with drag strip performance, autocross handling, road-race braking, and yet idle in hot, backed up traffic, or cold starts at -25F, and smooth performance in the mountains in our family 4dr. 25mpg with high 13 second ET’s. Plus, minimal maintenance with an easy life expectancy well over 300K.

    300+HP, small displacement, 4cyl turbo engines are now common-place. 500HP performance engines are now boring to performance gurus. 650-1,000HP factory crate motors are available. And with a few mods, 1500HP-2000HP street motors running on pump gas are relatively common being built by performance shops all over the country. Electric, all wheel drive performance cars are in the market exceeding many gas engine powered counterpart’s already mind-boggling stats. We are in an era, or golden age if you please, in automotive performance, safety, efficiency, and reliability never ever seen before. And it is available for the masses, not just performance junkies like myself. But this golden age of engine technology is not in certified fossil fuel aviation propulsion other than Jet-A burning large airliner engines, or avionics at this point.

    Like it or not, agree with it or not, the global infrastructure is designed for fossil fuel powered engines. There is a global fossil fuel infrastructure that has been in place for a long time. In the 70’s no one predicted even the possibilities of expanding fossil fuel supplies, with engine designs that are so incredibly powerful, reliable, meeting emission specs dreamed unattainable even 10 years ago. The OPEC oil embargo had all the Chicken Little’s screaming the mantra that oil availability was dwindling, running out within a decade or two. There is so much oil available today, we are practically swimming in it, having a hard time storing its new found abundance. Naturally, the development of fossil fuel engine technology is less costly with a faster ROI than alternative power sources that has no or little current infrastructure to support even its present state of evolution.

    Countries who by design or forced upon them by the very nature of its topography/climate contributing to a lack of relatively cheap access to commonly available fossil fuels, will design and engineer an infrastructure for the support of the existing alternative electric motor technology. With an eye for the future regarding alternative fuel sources technology, electric or otherwise, these countries who purposefully planned and install a support system for electric power, with provision for hybrids will be the first to implement that technology into something reasonably useful. Finland and Europe in general is small compared to the US. Flights we accomplish in the US for hamburger runs, fly-in activities, or a weekend getaway are longer than many commercial distances connecting major European cities, or in this case cities within Finland.

    The needs of America are different than Finland. Within the vastness of the US, even state transportation and those infrastructure requirements are significantly different. I doubt if you will find snow plow services or even a single snow plow in Sebring, Florida. But, I will guarantee there are a bunch in Minneapolis.

    We constantly debate some sort of one-size fits all mentality applying that distorted logic in our discussions as if the needs, desires, politics, topography, climate, economics, national resources, and infrastructure are all the same. Therefore, the use of technology with a supporting infrastructure drives innovation to meet the wide variances contained in different states in the US, and is now showing up in countries outside of America. What will be popular, well accepted, and needed in Finland will not be popular, well accepted, nor needed in Texas. We got cheap gas. We have unleaded non-ethanol fuel available for use in over 66% of the existing aircraft fleet. And for those remaining airplanes in the US, 100LL is standard at virtually every airport. But these fuels are either not available in Finland or if so, exorbitantly expensive. So, why would Finland invest in fossil fuel aviation engine development under Finland’s circumstances. Likewise, why would the state of Texas invest heavily in electric aircraft power for airline transportation? Both have entirely different needs.

    Finland is dedicating it resources seeking electric power for its unique air transportation needs. The limitations of electric power might have enough room for success in Finland that would not work for Iowa or Wyoming. I am enthused about the possibility of their success. Whatever they learn will be useful for us. If it does not mature as planned, so be it. We will still benefit from that effort.

    I am all for environmental stewardship. But the major contributions to climate change is not the use of fossil fuel engines regardless if they power airplanes, cars, trains, or ships. All of this global transportation aggregate contributes less than 17% of all emissions and is still improving. That leaves 83% of the contributions to climate change something to examine, debate, and deal with.

    In the meantime, I am putting some affordable 91 octane, non-ethanol, lead-free pump gas in my big cammed, lopey sounding, carburated, very clean burning and now extremely efficient, 50 year old V8, powering my formerly emission strangled, OPEC era, 41 year old pick-up, toting a few gallons of the same to top off my 67 year old airplane, and will enjoy both with out a hint of guilt for my freedom to do so while thankful of all the technology and current regulations that permits this. These engines are music to my ears. And I will give a friendly wave to my silent Volt, Prius, Honda, Kia, and Tesla driving friends in a spirit of camaraderie. No one size fits all mentality here. Run whatcha brung.

  5. All that power from lithium ion batteries?, scary. Before this happens there needs to be a totally different technology in batteries. Lithium Ion is just too unstable and dangerous when drawing that much current. And a fire is so much worse with those things. They’re too temperamental. Kerosene/jetfuel has a long proven track record, much safer. And an electric airliner using fan technology won’t be any quieter than what’s flying now. The noise generated in jets is from the sheer effect of the accelerated air meeting the surrounding air. And the whine from the spinning fans out the front. Both will still be present. And electric motors big enough to spin the fan enough to produce that much power would probably make their own unique noise. The end result might be even more noise than current jet engines. A jet engine that powers a wide body airliners has been used to power naval destroyers. GE CF-6. And trains. So people are thinking they can carry enough batteries to run one of these size engines for hours? This is the delusional dreams of whacked out greenies that live in a dream world. Wake up to reality.

    • “So people are thinking they can carry enough batteries to run one of these size engines for hours? ”

      Electric airliners can never throttle back through the flight since the aircraft weight does not decrease with time. That means that the longer they fly, the LESS efficient electric power is when compared to liquid fueled engines. Better batteries will not address that basic fact for machines that fly through the air.

      • Mark … I’ll have you know that as the electrons coming out of those batteries do useful work and get used up, the batteries get lighter. Every tree hugger knows that! Besides, they grow on trees.

        Tomorrow — during the SuperBowl game — GM is going to reveal it’s new 1,000hp electric Hummer. THAT oughta drive the electric crowd into an absolute tither.

  6. Finnair’s longest currently-scheduled domestic flight is from Helsinki to Ivalo, approx. 577 miles. Four flights per 24 hrs, 4 to 5 hours between flights, Airbus A320s and A321s. With twice as many electric airplanes as jets due to time on the chargers, they could probably make the switch and make this schedule work. But will Finnair really want to replace their fleet for domestic flights 2 for 1?

      • And don’t forget the energy efficiency as the ambient temperatures drop, too, Yars. I spent time in Bodo, Norway on a USAF/F-16 project during brutal cold — the same sort of cold one might expect in Finland. We had all sorts of electrical problems up there with our jets, ground equipment and vehicles So these folks would have to keep the jets — or at least the batteries — warm in between flights, too. How efficient is THAT? Well … maybe time on the chargers (TOC) will keep them warm enough ??

  7. I’d guess a headline of “Last JT8D powered airliner expected to be retired from scheduled carrier service by end of decade” has only a small chance of proving true in 2030. A decade is not a long time in this business.