Emirates president Sir Tim Clark says electric-powered planes ‘pie-in-the-sky’

Emirates President Sir Tim Clark has described the idea of electric powered aeroplanes as “pie in the sky”.

However, Clark said more should be done by authorities to help reduce the carbon footprint of aircraft, in an interview with the Emirates World Interviews podcast series with Steve Harvey.

“My own view is that I have to say that I do not foresee in the short or medium term, steep changes in fuel technology. In other words, there is a lot of talk about electrical-powered aircraft, there’s a lot of talk about alternative fuels, and yes technology might take us there eventually with perhaps the use of hydrogen as a main source of power, but electrical power, to drive something like an A380 over a 16-hour mission, a 560-tonne aircraft flying at 600 miles per hour, or nearly 1,000 km/h on battery power is just not going to work,” he said.

“It’s pie in the sky, excuse the pun, to even think about that.”

An Airbus electric-powered aircraft project – E-Fan X – mooted in Paris will take at least 15 years to reach fruition.

The European aerospace giant is working with Rolls-Royce and Siemens on developing a hybrid engine – due to be tested in the next two years – which would produce just 2 megawatts of power, far less than what’s needed to propel even a small narrow-body model.

An Airbus electric-powered aircraft project – E-Fan X – mooted in Paris will take at least 15 years to reach fruition.

Purely electrical propulsion is much further out, given that batteries are too heavy to achieve the same efficiency as fuel. Safran estimates that full-size battery-powered commercial aircraft are not feasible before 2050 at the earliest.

Air travel emissions

The United Nations aviation body estimates that aeroplane emissions of carbon dioxide will hit 2.7 billion metric tons by 2050. However, the International Council on Clean Transportation found that emissions from global air travel may be increasing more than 1.5 times that UN estimate.

Young climate activist Greta Thunberg thrust the issue into the spotlight recently when she took a yacht across the Atlantic ahead of her speech at the United Nations, rather than travelling by aeroplane.

Clark said there have been improvements in the way aircraft are built, leading to better fuel efficiencies.

“The aircraft is so much more efficient per seat mile, per seat kilometre that they were 30 or 40 years ago, and that’s improving all the time.”

However, he called on authorities to play their part in cutting down on fuel usage. 

“I’m fairly optimistic that the business will continue, technology will continue to drive – excuse the pun – the way we go about flying these aeroplanes, the way we go about powering these aeroplanes, but there’s a lot more work to do with regard to the areas in which they operate – air traffic control systems, Europe, the Single European Skies Project, the air traffic control projects in North America. These have got to be improved, so that the aircraft can fly on straight-line routes without wandering around the skies of Europe or America and not burning fuel unnecessarily.”

He added: “We need to improve the way we go about holding patterns over places like Heathrow and even Dubai and other places where aircraft like the A380, which are burning 12 tonnes an hour of fuel at lower altitudes, are being held in circles because airports are too congested.”

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