Can big, sleek, fuel-free jets bring a whole new level of flying to U.S. airline passengers?

The all-battery, no-fuel Boeing 777X could save air carriers billions, but it’s got a way to go before it can make up for the airline industry’s fuel challenges. While the all-battery Boeing 777X will…

Can big, sleek, fuel-free jets bring a whole new level of flying to U.S. airline passengers?

The all-battery, no-fuel Boeing 777X could save air carriers billions, but it’s got a way to go before it can make up for the airline industry’s fuel challenges.

While the all-battery Boeing 777X will be a game-changer in the airline industry, it’s still more expensive to fly than current jet planes, says Rajiv Anand, chief technology officer at flight data company FlightAware. The fuel burn for the all-battery jet is more than five times that of conventional jets.

Can big, sleek fuel-free jets bring a whole new level of flying to U.S. airline passengers?

To date, the only airplane with a 100 percent electric electrical drive unit is the Fokker 100 propjet. The privately-owned aircraft company had to restart production in 2011, due to lack of demand and high production costs.

When will we see the first all-battery, no-fuel airliner? The new 777X will be the first electric jet in commercial use.

“When all major airlines look at the cost-per-mile (CPM) and the power density of these airplanes versus their fuel burn, the 787 Dreamliner and A350 XWB [Boeing and Airbus’ all-battery, no-fuel jets] and the upcoming 777X is going to get very close to commercial success,” Anand says.

Next up will be the revolutionary all-electric jet, the Pratt & Whitney-powered BE35, expected to be available in 2020. Anand says the BE35 will offer an incredible benefit of 0.2-percent CPM and will have the potential to save airlines more than $5 billion a year.

So, how many more years must the industry wait before we start flying without flying fuel?

“Like any technology, we are at the very beginning.” says Anand. “We’ve been working on hybrid electric propulsion systems and hypersonic flight for the last 50 years. There’s an advantage to be had right now, but when you get down the road into more quiet flying, then the all-electric jet could become viable as a commercial jet.”

Extreme times make good products. The new 777X could be a game-changer for the airline industry. However, for American carriers, and other airlines, it’s going to take more of their airplanes to pull it off. They will need to build a bigger fleet of big jets, but the all-battery jets will require 20 percent more fuel. The production costs will be high. And, of course, there are the engine challenges to contend with.

“It will be a faster and stronger aircraft and it will also be a lot quieter,” says Anand. “But it’s still dependent on its business case that fuel burn efficiency has to be far more than 20 percent, and the size and weight of a 787 is far greater.

“But, in the next couple of years, the 787 and the new A350 XWB are going to get close.”

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