Don't forget to charge the plane

The legroom situation is probably not improving, but one aspect of air travel is about to get a bit better: you’ll soon be able to fly (short distances) in Canada without burning any fuel. Air Canada is buying 30 electric-hybrid planes and says it will offer fully electric short-haul flights as early as 2028.

Why it matters: It’s a first step towards reducing emissions from aviation, which is a sector that’s particularly difficult to decarbonize and accounts for around 2.5% of total carbon emissions.

  • The ES-30 aircraft, made by Sweden’s Heart Aerospace, can carry 30 passengers for a maximum of 200 kilometres in all-electric mode and 400 kilometres in hybrid mode.

  • That range will limit where the planes can be used, but Air Canada’s CEO says they are more cost-efficient than traditional aircraft, which could allow the airline to create new short-haul routes.

Zoom out: Battery-powered electric planes are a workable solution for short flights, but the technology is unlikely to scale to long flights because batteries light enough to go on a plane can only store a relatively small amount of energy. 

  • Instead, airplane manufacturers are developing larger hydrogen-fueled aircraft that will have much longer ranges.

  • Airbus is aiming to produce hydrogen-powered aircraft by 2035 that can carry 200 passengers up to 3,700 kilometres—a bit further than a flight from Vancouver to Toronto.

Bottom line: Cheaper, more fuel-efficient planes could not only bring down aviation emissions but also make it economically viable for airlines to serve more remote communities.