Source : The Times – International (Royaume-Uni) – 27 mars 2021
Aura Aero says its 19-seat aircraft will be ideal for flights of up to 300 miles
An all-electric airliner could be flying passengers between European cities in about five years under a project announced this week by a French start-up that hopes to become the “Tesla of aviation”.
Powered by six electric motors driving propellers, the 19-seat Electric Regional Aircraft (Era) is under development by Aura Aero, a Toulouse-based company founded in 2018 by former Airbus engineers.
This week the company began production of a new two-seater plane made of carbon-wood, a lightweight composite material. It is confident that it can meet its ambitious timetable in a race to beat rivals in Europe, the US and Israel and overcome the formidable weight and range barriers to commercial electric passenger flight.
While more than 100 projects are under way around the world to produce drone-like vertical take-off air taxis, fixed-wing emissions-free flight has been constrained by the mass of the batteries needed to travel even short distances. Last June the European authorities issued the world’s first certification for an all-electric aircraft to the Pipistrel Velus, a Slovenian-built plane with two seats that flies for an hour before needing to recharge.
Five European transport operators have shown interest in the Era and may deploy staff to join in its development at the company’s Francazal airport base. Verkor, a start-up battery maker based in Grenoble, has signed up as a partner to develop the lithium-ion units that will power the eight-tonne aircraft that is scheduled to make its first flight in 2024.
About €10 million has been invested in the project, including €3 million to €5 million from France’s Occitanie regional council. A further €40 million is due to be raised in the summer.
Jérémy Caussade, the Aura Aero chief executive, said that the aircraft would be ideal for covering cross-country routes in France of up to about 300 miles, such as the 225-mile run between Toulouse and Lyons. No one had yet been able to produce such an aircraft, he said. “Aura Aero could become the aeronautical Tesla,” he said last month, referring to the US electric car pioneer.
For longer flights of up to 500 miles, the Era will switch to hybrid power, generating electricity with a jet turbine that would still reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 80 per cent compared with conventional jet engines, Caussade, a Bristol University graduate, told Tribune newspaper.
Former Airbus test pilots and a former aerobatic champion helped to develop the Integral, the high-performance two-seater that went into production this week. Airbus, also based in Toulouse, is working on hybrid-electric propulsion for aircraft.