On The Radar
As the aviation industry looks to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, new battery-electric and hydrogen-powered aircraft could be the most effective solutions for reducing its dependence on fossil fuels in the long term. But in the short term, the market for hybrid-electric aircraft could prove to be more fruitful.
A new report issued by analysts at Allied Market Research projects the global hybrid aircraft market will generate $1.9 billion of revenue in 2025, when several hybrid aircraft are expected to enter service. By 2035 that number is projected to increase more than fivefold to $10.2 billion, with a compound annual growth rate of 18.2 percent. According to the report, the aviation industry is “witnessing a surge in demand for hybrid aircraft that offer reduced emissions and operational efficiency with increased awareness of environmental impact.”
According to the authors, aircraft with hybrid electric powertrains can capitalize on recent advancements in electric propulsion technology without sacrificing range, whereas all-electric aircraft are constrained by the limitations of battery technology. This makes hybrid aircraft an attractive option for regional air mobility, whereas the first electric air taxis will primarily be used for urban air mobility.
Allied Market Research says the first fully electric commuter airliners to hit the market are projected to offer a range of no more than around 250 miles on a single charge. With hybrid powertrains, those same aircraft could fly up to four times as far while still producing 80 percent less carbon emissions compared to their conventional gas-guzzling counterparts. A hybrid aircraft’s combustion engine can recharge its batteries in flight, functioning as a range extender. It also reduces the need for costly recharging infrastructure at the airports and vertiports where new advanced air mobility (AAM) vehicles will operate, as hybrid aircraft can be refueled with either conventional jet fuel or biofuels, also known as sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).
While companies like Ampaire and Surf Air Mobility plan to retrofit legacy airplanes with hybrid-electric powertrains under supplemental type certificates, several companies are developing clean-sheet designs for hybrid airplanes, eVTOL air taxis, and large cargo drones. Ampaire appears to be on track to receive its first STC for the Cessna Grand Caravan in 2024, whereas the first clean-sheet designs could enter service in 2025.
French start-up VoltAero is preparing to begin flight testing with a prototype of its hybrid-electric Cassio 330 in the second quarter of 2024, and it hopes to receive a type certificate from EASA for the five-seat aircraft by the end of the year. The company recently flew a hybrid technology demonstrator using pure SAF. Meanwhile Aura Aero, another French start-up, is developing a 19-seat hybrid-electric regional airliner that it says could be certified in 2028. In Sweden, Heart Aerospace is working to certify a 30-seat hybrid-electric regional airliner called the ES-30, which the company says will also enter service in 2028.
In the U.S., California-based Elroy Air says its remotely-piloted Chaparral C1 cargo freighter, a hybrid eVTOL aircraft, is scheduled to enter service in 2025. The company’s first five deliveries will go to helicopter operator Bristow, which has pre-ordered up to 100 Chaparrals. Bristow also intends to be the launch operator for Virginia-based Electra.aero, which is developing a hybrid-electric, short-takeoff-and-landing (STOL) aircraft capable of carrying nine passengers. Electra’s hybrid-electric STOL aircraft likely won’t be certified until around 2028, the company has said.
Numerous other companies are developing hybrid-electric designs, including Pipistrel’s Nuuva V300 cargo drone, Plana’s eVTOL air taxi, Ascendance Flight Technologies’ four-passenger Atea VTOL aircraft, Dufour Aerospace’s Aero2 uncrewed VTOL utility aircraft, and Odys Aviation’s Laila cargo drone, to name a few.