University of Nottingham: Hybrid electric flight arrives in South West England

A series of demonstration flights between Exeter Airport and Cornwall Airport Newquay have started this week, to advance the use of sustainable aviation, driving down costs and emissions on short regional routes. The flights are part of a series of government-backed trials aimed at moving the UK towards sustainable aviation.

The University of Nottingham is part of a consortium led by Ampaire, a pioneer in hybrid electric aircraft technology, working together to explore regional electric aviation transport solutions. Last year the team received £2.4 million from the UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) £30 million Future Flight Challenge towards the consortium’s £5 million 2ZERO programme.

Demonstration flights will be flown by its Electric EEL technology demonstrator. The EEL, a modified six-seat Cessna 337 Skymaster, features a battery-powered electric motor at the front and conventional combustion engine at the rear, enabling a reduction in emissions and operating costs by as much as 30%. The aircraft will fly between these two regional airports, 85 miles apart, on a combination of battery and piston power, collecting valuable data to monitor fuel savings, efficiency and noise.

The future of electric aircraft
Ampaire uses the EEL as an important research and development platform. It is currently developing hybrid electric drive train upgrades for larger 9- to 19-seat regional aircraft. It views the near-term opportunity to transform existing turboprop aircraft such as the de Havilland Twin Otter as the first step to fully electric aircraft, which will become feasible as battery technology advances.

2ZERO (Towards Zero Emissions in Regional Aircraft Operations) involves the operation of hybrid electric aircraft on regional routes in South West UK, together with a study of the ecosystem required to enable the future of electric aircraft within existing airport and airline operations.

The 2ZERO bid was submitted by Ampaire and partners including Exeter Airport, Rolls-Royce Electrical, University of Nottingham, Loganair Ltd, Cornwall Airport Ltd, Heart of the Southwest Local Enterprise Partnership (HotSWLEP). and UK Power Networks Services.

“Low-emission aircraft are vitally needed on short haul regional routes to meet the UK’s net-zero objective for aviation,” said Dr Susan Ying, Ampaire’s senior VP for global operations. “We are developing commercial aircraft now that will begin this revolution in sustainable aviation with service entry planned 2024.”

She thanked the UK Civil Aviation Authority for its valued contribution and support of 2ZERO, expediently authorising the test flights this week.

The EEL will be based at Exeter Airport from where it will fly on two CAA-approved routes, taking it over the dramatic expanse of Dartmoor, or on a more southerly flight path along the stunning Devon and Cornwall coastline, before touching down at Cornwall Airport Newquay.

“The EEL flies very much like a conventional aircraft, with some new instrumentation for power management,” said demonstration pilot Elliot Sequin. “We have flown it nonstop from Los Angeles to San Francisco and now the length of the UK without any difficulty. It is the forerunner of a new generation of efficient aircraft that will be easy to fly for pilots and cost effective for airlines.”

Reducing emissions
Speaking in Exeter, Lord Callanan, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Minister for Business, Energy and Corporate Responsibility at the Department for Business, Energy and Industry Strategy, commented: “We are committed to championing our world-leading aerospace sector, which has a critical role to play in helping to build back greener and end our contribution to climate change by 2050. Today’s hybrid electric test flight by Ampaire, backed by £2.4m of government funding, is a significant milestone in making aviation cleaner and more sustainable. It shows the importance of government and industry working hand in hand to drive forward the innovations that will make electric flight a reality.”

Robert Courts, Minister for Aviation in the Department of Transport, added: “We’re leading the charge on reducing aviation emissions through the consultation on our ambitious Jet Zero Strategy, which recognises the key role innovative technologies like hybrid-electric aircraft can play in decarbonising aviation. The test flights taking place today demonstrate how we can reduce aviation emissions, while collecting valuable data on fuel savings and efficiency to help future innovation.”

Researchers from the University of Nottingham will be using their extensive experience in air transportation system modelling and simulation to work with airline and airport partners to assess the impact on costs, operations and crew rostering for operating a fleet of hybrid-electric vehicles. The objective is to develop an optimised electric aviation ecosystem, including aircraft, airports, power distribution and storage.

Dr Jason Atkin, Computational Optimisation and Learning Lab, University of Nottingham said: “The 2ZERO Future Flight Project will produce a major demonstrator to show how we can move towards net zero emissions in regional aviation. Our modelling and simulation research in this project utilises airport, airline and aircraft information to produce realistic and integrated models to evaluate how airspace, airports and aircraft could be used.

These are valuable tools to inform aviation decision-makers as they develop their business cases for changes needed for net-zero emissions operations.
Dr Jason Atkin, Computational Optimisation and Learning Lab
The ministers were joined by VIP guests at Exeter Airport’s XLR Jet Centre FBO, each invited to see the aircraft, meet with Ampaire management and test Pilot Elliot Seguin.

Emerging technology
Stephen Wiltshire, Operations Director at Exeter Airport commented: “We are incredibly excited and very proud to be supporting this initiative and to see Exeter Airport play a central role in demonstrating and developing this important technology. The future of aviation, as with so many aspects of our lives, has to be sustainable and only through innovation and the commitment of partnerships such as ours with 2ZERO can we highlight the potential of this emerging technology.”

Gary Cutts, Future Flight Challenge Director at UKRI said: “At Future Flight we are committed to leading a revolution in aviation by funding projects that will deliver real benefits to local communities. It’s great to see the work the 2ZERO project is putting in to developing not only a new aircraft with Ampaire, but also the infrastructure needed to support them. These developments in new aviation technologies give me confidence that future air travel will not only be greener, but also improve connectivity for thousands of people across the UK.”

Tim Johnson, Director of the UK Civil Aviation Authority, said: “We are pleased to see trials of innovative aircraft technologies that could improve the environmental sustainability of the aviation sector. The trials will enable the CAA to advance the safe and effective regulation of innovative services and products.”