The E-Fan prototype parked under the wing of an Airbus A400M

It’s more than likely that by mid century the tiny Airbus E-Fan electric plane will be seen as a bigger force for change than its giant A380s or brand new A350 line.  Last Friday Airbus Group committed to putting its E-Fan 2.0 into production, announcing an assembly line in Pau, in France’s Aquitaine region.

Airbus is going down the same path as Telsa with all electric autos, from a seemingly tiny start with a two seat battery powered trainer, but to a declared strategy leading to high capacity airliners that could be totally carbon neutral.

At a press conference in Bordeaux (near Pau) the Airbus Group Chief Technical Officer Jean Botti said “We have reached the next milestone in our Airbus Group E-Aircraft road map. The industrialisation of our E-Fan aircraft will help us to advance electric flight and also to gain experience to scale up the technology.”

Voltair SAS, created in 2014 and owned 100 percent owned by Airbus Group, will manage the E-Fan development, production and delivery in the Pau area. Voltair will also be in charge of selling and providing services like maintenance for the E-Fan aircraft. Airbus Group will invest € 20 million in the overall design and development of the E-Fan 2.0 aircraft, in addition to contributions from Airbus Group’s partners.The goal for entry-into-service of the first E-Fan 2.0 is around the end of 2017 or start of 2018.

It is intended to be followed by a four seat E-Fan 4.0 by around 2019. A demonstrator E-Fan was on static display at the Paris Air Show in 2013 (totally eclipsed by the sudden flypast of the A350 XWB prototype)  and first flew on 11 March 2014, since making 78 test flights.

Airbus has very big ambitions for ‘electroliners’ both entirely battery powered, or involving the on board burning of non-fossil carbon releasing liquid fuels to generate electrical power (with a buffer storage system) that would be distributed to an array of small e-fan engines that would allow for more aerodynamically efficient airframes than in use by production airliners today.

The carbon neutral basis of E-Fan flight depends on how the stored electrical energy is sourced. France generates most of its base load power from nuclear power plants, but Airbus has also been pursuing renewable energy sources including wind solar and tidal power, from power farms within or near airports, including the possible use of terminal and hangar roofs and bio-fuel factories.

The E-Fan 2.0 (background) and the 4 seater E-Fan 4.0
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