British tycoon plans to launch an electric airline that will serve plant-based food

“The question of how to create sustainable air travel has plagued the green movement for decades,” said Dale Vince, founder of British energy firm Ecotricity.
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British entrepreneur Dale Vince on Monday announced plans to launch an electric airline that will be powered using renewable energy — and those behind the project hope it will mark the start of a new era in air travel.

The formation of Ecojet represents the latest attempt to reduce the environmental footprint of aviation. Flights in the U.K. will begin in 2024. Trips to mainland Europe will follow, and long-haul journeys are also in the works.

Ecojet will use 19- and 70-seat turboprop aircraft. While the goal is for the airplanes to use hydrogen-electric powertrains eventually, initial flights won’t.  

“Short-term, to secure routes and a license from the Civil Aviation Authority, Ecojet will initially fly using conventionally fuelled planes,” a statement issued Monday said.

It went on to state that the aircraft would be “retrofitted with the hydrogen-electric power trains as soon they become approved for service by the CAA.”

The first retrofits are slated for 2025, a year after flights begin. Onboard meals will be plant-based, and single-use plastic will be scrapped.

Repurposing planes instead of building new ones “will save 90,000 tonnes of carbon per year,” the statement said. “The only byproduct will be water, which can be captured and released into the lower atmosphere to avoid the harmful effects of contrails,” it added.

Vince, who is the founder of British energy firm Ecotricity, was bullish about Ecojet’s prospects. “The question of how to create sustainable air travel has plagued the green movement for decades,” he said.

He went on to describe Ecojet as “by far the most significant step towards a solution to date.”

‘We should be honest’

There are reasons not to get too hopeful too soon, however.

According to the International Energy Agency, aviation was responsible for 2% of the planet’s energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in 2022.

The Paris-based organization notes that although it “accounts for a relatively small share of global emissions,” it is “one of the most challenging sectors to decarbonise.”

Elsewhere, the World Wildlife Fund describes aviation as “one of the fastest-growing sources of the greenhouse gas emissions driving global climate change.” It adds that air travel is the most carbon-intensive activity a person can engage in.

As concerns about sustainability and the environment mount, discussions about aviation have increasingly focused on how new innovations and ideas could reduce the sector’s impact on the environment.

In September 2020, a hydrogen fuel-cell plane capable of carrying passengers took to the skies over England for its maiden flight. The same month also saw Airbus release details of three hydrogen-powered concept planes.  

But while there is excitement about the potential of hydrogen-powered flight and other innovations within the sector, some industry veterans have struck a cautious tone when it comes to talking about radical shifts taking place in the immediate term.   

“I think … we should be honest again,” Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary told CNBC in 2021. “Certainly, for the next decade … I don’t think you’re going to see any — there’s no technology out there that’s going to replace … carbon, jet aviation.”

“I don’t see the arrival of … hydrogen fuels, I don’t see the arrival of sustainable fuels, I don’t see the arrival of electric propulsion systems, certainly not before 2030,” O’Leary added.

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