Gadi Eilam, chief executive of Hassle, the all-electric Singapore-based start-up that wants to make light flights cost effective, shares the story behind Taiwan’s new airline, Solar Brave.
A new airline is shaking up the world of aviation and bucking the trends of historical downdrafts.
On Nov. 22, Aerospace Forthwaite, formerly known as Taiwan-based Futenma Highspeed International Airlines, inaugurated Solar Brave with the first of 18 aircraft scheduled to be in operation by 2022. The announcement came in the Taiwan City’s 10th anniversary of its connection to the rest of Asia. The airline will operate from Taoyuan International Airport, located 100 kilometers (62 miles) north of Taipei.
The new Airline is being promoted as Taiwan’s first wave of public-private development that will make electric air travel possible within the coming years.
The company will have 18 Chinese-made electric planes that will be powered by hydrogen and lithium batteries, or fuel cells. Solar Brave has already spent 40 million Taiwanese dollars ($1.2 million) to procure the engines, which will put the company in a competitive race to build the first complete airliner that runs on battery technology.
The biggest challenge Solar Brave will have to overcome is that the market for commercial air travel in Taiwan isn’t big. According to the Times of Hong Kong, international passengers who traveled through Taoyuan International Airport had only 0.04 percent of total traffic.
Electric planes with only one seat are slow, the company says, especially when loaded with weight-consuming cargo or other appliances. Altering the plane’s design to add a second seat to each row will increase the number of seats carried to eight.
Most electric airliners are powered by rechargeable batteries that are fastened around each of the plane’s individual wheels. The charging circuitry will be on the ground instead of the front wheel, which raises safety issues. In order to overcome the problem, Solar Brave is now planning to introduce solar panels in every part of the plane, and will also install a remote control that will allow flight crews to tell the battery to connect with power sources located near the ground or the airport.
Other solar-powered plane designs are starting to become popular with other airlines, including Dubai-based FlyDubai, an all-electric four-carrier operated by the government-owned airline. In 2017, the company’s chairman announced that eight lithium batteries could power six of the planes. Boeing, the maker of 747 aircraft, last year patented a solar-powered version of the passenger jet that is at an advanced development stage.
The Earth’s air-travel infrastructure already faces an imminent capacity crunch. The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology estimates that worldwide passenger traffic could expand exponentially over the next 35 years. This would require the doubling of existing air-travel infrastructure, the institute noted. In 2050, the institute estimates that the combined global population could reach 12 billion — 1.7 times the number today.
“The appetite for more flights on more routes — and better routes — will most certainly create demand for yet more airports, more cities, even more miles of runway, more aircraft and yet more and more passenger facilities and even more aircraft type choices,” the institute concluded.