Airbus Sees U.S. Market For Four-Place Electric Airplane

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With a production site for its E-Fan 2.0 electric trainer selected in France, Airbus is bullish enough on e-flight to project a four-place electric hybrid before 2020. At the Electric Aircraft Symposium in Santa Rosa, California, on Friday, the company’s head of development and strategy, Ken McKenzie, said Airbus isn’t exactly going after Cirrus and Cessna for the personal aircraft market, but a four-place hybrid aircraft called the E-fan 4.0 will surely appeal to buyers who want aircraft for personal transportation.

In this exclusive podcast from AVweb’s coverage of EAS, McKenzie said the E-fan 2.0 will be a pure electric two-seater manufactured primarily for the European training market. He said it’s envisioned to have an endurance of around 90 minutes and will be equipped with both quick-change battery packs and batteries that will charge rapidly. Rather than a conventional propeller, it has a ducted, multi-blade fan. Although this isn’t as efficient as a conventional bladed propeller, it’s much quieter and that, said McKenzie, was a primary design goal for Airbus. Empty weight is projected at about 500 kg (1100 pounds) with batteries, with a gross weight of about 650 kg or 1430 pounds, a bit more than the U.S. LSA weight limit. Interestingly, the E-fan designs, developed for Airbus by subsidiary VoltAir, use a chain-driven wheel to taxi to the runway, then switch to the fans for takeoff and flight. McKenzie said the chain drive, although it adds weight, is more efficient than the fans for taxi. Because it will attempt to certify and deliver in the midst of rapid battery development, the E-fan designs will be flexible enough to accommodate battery developments that aren’t even in visual range at the moment. “We have to do that. We don’t want our designs to become obsolete and neither do our customers,” McKenzie said. The E-fan aircraft will also have a fully integrated battery and system management system that Airbus calls an E-FADEC.

Airbus is aggressive on the market outlook for such aircraft in Europe, where demand is shaped by noise and emission restrictions. For the U.S. market, Airbus is similarly aggressive, but with an airplane that’s a combination trainer and personal transport aircraft. The E-fan 4.0 will be a four-place low-wing aircraft with a t-tail and a pair of tail-mounted ducted fans. Power will be provided by a hybrid drive system Airbus has in development.

“The way we’ve designed the E-Fan 4.0, it will be manufactured in the United States, all the supply chain will come from the U.S. and will be serviced in the U.S.,” McKenzie said. “We look at our aircraft as being the cutting edge of aircraft, but that will also appeal to a customer who wants something a little different. So if you drive a Tesla, you obviously want the cool factor and the environmental factor, too,” McKenzie added. The E-fan 2.0 is set to deliver in 2017 and the 4.0 before 2020.