Rolls-Royce and Scandinavian airline Widerøe say they can have an electric plane in service by 2026

Mar 16, 2021

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The race to develop the first green airplane is heating up.

Rolls-Royce and Italian planemaker Tecnam announced a new partnership with Scandinavian regional airline Widerøe to develop a fully electric passenger plane.

While a number of legacy companies and startups are working on electric flight, what’s notable about the new partnership is its ambitious timeframe: the companies say they’re aiming to have the plane ready for passenger service by 2026.

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The companies said they were focusing on developing a plane for the commuter market, which typically means a plane that seats 19 or fewer passengers. Rolls-Royce already had existing partnerships with both Widerøe and Tecnam.

The effort is likely a sign of things to come as the global aviation industry strives to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

Airbus last year announced a new initiative to develop full-size hydrogen-powered aircraft by 2030, and other engine and airframe makers, such as GE, Honeywell, and Boeing are also investing in alternative fuel projects.

Widerøe is not the first European airline to collaborate with an electric planemaker. Low-cost carrier EasyJet partnered with U.S. startup Wright Electric to develop a fully electric commercial plane with the decade.

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However, basic battery engineering makes it difficult to design a large-scale electric plane, despite the success of some single-engine and prototype models.

Even so, the three partners are optimistic.

“This collaboration strengthens our existing relationships with Tecnam and Widerøe as we look to explore what is needed to deliver an all-electric passenger aircraft for the commuter market,” Rob Watson, director of Rolls-Royce Electrical, said in a press release. “It also demonstrates Rolls-Royce’s ambitions to be the leading supplier of all-electric and hybrid electric propulsion and power systems across multiple aviation markets.”

Featured image courtesy of Rolls-Royce.

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