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The Impact of Aviation on Pollution and the Electric Plane of Pipistrel

I am interested in understanding what is the impact that aviation has on pollution in the world.

Noise, heat from the engines and pollution from the exhaust gas, cause a big amount of atmospheric pollution and their effect is increasing.

In 2005 it has been estimated that the impact of aviation on global atmospheric pollution is 4.9%. It might look like a small number, but it’s not. It will eventually increase to 15% by 2050.

In the United States only, the percentage of polluting gas emissions coming from aviation alone is 11%. The remaining 89% comes from all other transportation means (cars, trains, trucks, etc).

It has been estimated that about 20.000 airplanes fly everyday and by 2040 this number will increase to 50.000 per day.

According to a study published on Enviornmental Science and Technology, the impact of all transportation means that pollute the atmosphere differs according to the time of impact considered.

The study distinguishes between short time effects (5 years), medium time effects (20 year) and long-time effects (50 years).

Aviation has a stronger effect on the shorter period of 5 years, instead its effects decrease as time passes.

This is different for cars. For example, airplanes pollute a lot more on the shorter period, instead the effect of pollution of cars increase on the medium and longer periods.

My interest is now on electric airplanes.

We still won’t see electric airliners, but looking at the figures described above, I am trying to understand which electric airplanes exist and what are their performances. To do this I contacted Pipistrel that gave me some interesting information on their electric airplane Alpha Electro.

Alpha Electro from Pipistrel

Pipistrel, if you don’t know it, is a Slovenian company that started building their first airplanes in the ‘80s. Today they are still producing and started collaborating with NASA to study electric airplanes.

The company has 2 factories, the original company in Slovenia and the new facility in Gorizia, Italy.

I am particularly interested in the Alpha Electro because it’s a light weight aircraft, accessible to many pilots and zero impact on the atmosphere.

pipistrel alpha electro

Built for training

It’s particularly suited for flight schools as it has been built to be a 2 seat trainer. It can take-off and land on short runways, it can climb at over 1000 fpm and 13% of energy is recovered at each landing, thanks to the design of the propeller which acts as a normal propeller when power is added and as a windmill when idle.

The design of the propeller enables it to turn only with the airflow when power is idle on approaches, reducing battery use while charging it and increasing efficiency, specially during patterns.

Reduced costs

This is another reason why I am interested in this airplane: aircraft performance can increase costs for the flight schools and therefore for the students. Even if you are a Private Pilot and want to buy an airplane, efficiency and reduced costs will be two good reasons to choose an electric airplane. Although, it is designed to be a trainer with an hour of endurance, it is thought to be used for patterns or short flights.

To reduce their costs, flight schools are using flight simulators that increase experience, but won’t give pilots flying hours. With an electric airplane you can fly for less money (70% of cost reduction), get the experience you need and build your flying hours.

Battery and Engine

aereo elettricoThe battery charger is as simple as charging your mobile phone.

The engine is made of a series of battery cells and an electric motor. The battery is connected to the BMS – Battery Management System that allows the pilot to know in advance any malfunction with the batteries.

Cockpit

Very ergonomic and comfortable it makes this 2 seater a good choice for cruising.

You will find all the classic instruments that you would have on a piston engine aircraft, even a GPS. Instead of the engine panel or engine instruments you will find the Battery Management System display.

This display has the same purpose of the engine instruments on a piston engine: it enables the pilot to have full control over the batteries, energy consumption, voltage, etc.

Cruising speed is of about 85 knots. Not bad for an electric aircraft.

You can still fly quite long distances and be efficient on consumption without polluting, and at almost zero cost.

To conclude, having studied the figures on world-wide pollution due to aviation, described earlier in this post and understanding that aviation has a strong impact on immediate atmospheric pollution, we need to do something to change the course of events. A good solution is to further develop electric airplanes.

This aircraft, Alpha Electro, is one of the pioneers of this technology that can change the way we fly.

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