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Why One Electric-Aircraft Pioneer Believes Hybrid Jet Engines Are the Best Path to the Future

According to Kevin Noertker, the most efficient path to a fully electric future is a partially electric present.

Ampaire CEO Kevin Noertker Courtesy of Ampaire

As cofounder and head of electric-aircraft pioneer Ampaire, Kevin Noertker is focused on testing its six-seat hybrid: a Cessna 337 retrofitted with one combustion engine and one battery-electric-motor pack. The US company also plans to refit other existing planes with alternative systems and is working on a sleek design for a new-build, nine-passenger, all-electric craft.

What’s the likely path to achieve aviation’s target of cutting emissions in half by 2050?

Most likely we’ll see more regional travel in electric aircraft, opening low-cost, quiet, eco-friendly transportation to more people and helping smaller towns—that today lack air service—connect to larger ones. Kerosene-burning jets will be reserved for the longest routes that are beyond the capability of electric aircraft.

Are passengers ready for electric flight?

They’re certainly ready for more environmentally responsible aircraft and will welcome lower operational costs and lower fares. Our hybrid is demonstrating the ability to cut fuel consumption by 50 percent and emissions accordingly.

Ampaire Electric EEL Cessna 337 Skymaster

Ampaire’s retrofitted Cessna 337, the EEL.  Courtesy of Ampaire

For your first project, why hybrid instead of all-electric?

The most efficient path to a fully electric future is a partially electric present. The benefits of hybrid systems are improved range and power-plant redundancy, which builds customer trust. We’ve staked out a market segment that we can enter with certified products within just a few years. But we believe that by 2040, any flight under 90 minutes—or about 500 miles—could be flown fully electric.

Can all the electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) contenders survive, even if they get off the ground?

I’m not sure the world needs 180 different types of eVTOLs. However, a handful of different configurations will likely be brought to market eventually. They can’t all survive, but the technology and workforce knowledge they develop will benefit the industry.

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