The electrification of aircraft can be traced back to the 19th century. In France, 1883, the Tissandier brothers flew the first electric powered balloon — but it wasn’t powerful enough to make headway against the wind. The PKZ-1 helicopter was developed in Hungary in 1916, featuring an electric motor that developed 140 watts of power at 6,000 rpm — but that had to be connected to the ground.
Over a century later, electrifying aircraft is viewed by many as a possible solution to sustainable travel in the skies.
In 2019, commercial airlines burned just under 100 billion gallons of fuel, resulting in about 2.5% of carbon dioxide produced by all of humankind. By 2050, given the expected growth of global air travel, commercial aviation is expected to contribute just under 20% of greenhouse gas emissions.
Developments in sustainable aircraft come in the form of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), hydrogen fuelled aircraft and electric planes.
We’ve taken a look at some of the top companies around the world — ranked by revenue — who are developing these technologies, and the aviation solutions for a more sustainable tomorrow.
CEO: JoeBen Bevirt
Joby Aviation was founded by CEO JoeBen Bevirt in 2009, before partnering with Nasa in 2012 on several groundbreaking electric flight projects, including the X-57 and LEAPTech. In 2020, Joby became the first eVTOL company to receive airworthiness approval from the U.S Air Force – breaking ground in electrical aviation developments and developing operational capabilities in advance of commercial launch is smoother with the opportunity to fly aircraft on-base and have access to government testing facilities.
CEO: Tian Yu
Founded in Hong Kong in 1999, Yuneec is a world leader in electronic aviation. From the first commercially successful ready-to-fly fixed wing RC aeroplane, to ground-breaking electric aircraft and next-generation aerial video quadcopters, Yuneec has pushed the limits above and beyond in electric aviation for over 15 years.
8. Ametek Inc.
CEO: David Zapico
American appliances, electrical, and electronics manufacturing company Ametek Inc. was founded in 1930 and is now headquartered in Berwyn, PA and operational in 30 countries across the globe. It provides global solutions in six key areas:
- Aerospace and defence platforms
- Automation and manufacturing
- Tests, measurements and detection
- Medical and healthcare fields
- Energy, production and supply
- Research and development
CEO: Patrice Caine
Headquartered just outside Paris, Thales is a global technology leader, specialising in defence and security, digital identity, aerospace, space, and transportation. In Aerospace, governments, airports, airlines, pilots, crews and passengers rely on Thales to make flight safer, easier and more efficient.
The company designs, delivers and supports the systems that keep the skies running — from air traffic management, training and simulation solutions, nose-to-tail aircraft connectivity and in-flight services.
CEO: Olivier Andriès
Paris-based aviation and aerospace component manufacturing company Safran is present in 27 countries, and founded in 2005. The company’s expertise lies in five key areas — aircraft equipment, aircraft interiors, aircraft propulsion, defence and space.
Safran is developing electric propulsion technologies for numerous platform types — some of which herald a whole new approach to civil aviation. Using the same technological building blocks, the company is positioned to address wide ranging needs and markets as electrification develops.
5. BAE Systems
CEO: Charles Woodburn
British multinational aerospace, arms, and security company BAE Systems is one of the largest defence contractors in the world. It is bringing together decades of demonstrated cross domain expertise in integrated flight controls and propulsion solutions to enable the next generation of aircraft — electric and hybrid. The offerings are modular, scalable, and adaptable for applications in a variety of markets, including regional and business jets, urban air mobility, and air transport.
CEO: Vimal Kapur
Honeywell International Inc. is a multinational conglomerate corporation mainly operating in aerospace, building technologies, performance materials and technologies, and safety and productivity solutions.
The company has more than 50 years of experience in propulsion and power controls, and is actively working on electric flight technologies including large unmanned aerial systems, urban air mobility and people transport, and light drones.
CEO: Guillaume Faury
Airbus is a global pioneer in the aerospace industry, operating in the commercial aircraft, helicopters, defence and space sectors, headquartered in Leiden, Netherlands with management conducted from Toulouse, France. Founded in 1970, it is the world’s second largest manufacturer of commercial aircraft after Boeing.
Part of Airbus’s sustainability strategy lies in hydrogen, as well as boosting SAF use to reduce emissions.
“The bottlenecks are no longer in the technology of the plane,” says Guillaume Faury, who has been Airbus CEO since 2019. Previously, he was CEO of Airbus Helicopters, and President of Airbus’ commercial aircraft business, a role he had held since February 2018.
Additionally, Faury is a member of the board of directors of AXA SA and is the President of both the Groupement des Industries Françaises de l’Aéronautique et du Spatial (GIFAS), the French aerospace industries association and the Aerospace, Security and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD).
“We strongly believe that we will be ready by 2035 with a hydrogen plane. The technology will be ready.”
CEO: Gregory Hayes
11 million air travel passengers are supported by RTX aviation systems every day, with 1 billion gallons of fuel saved by the company’s increasingly efficient aircraft engines.
The US based company has three key areas of operation:
- Sustainable, more connected flight — designing and building innovative solutions that are transforming aerospace
- Smarter defense systems — enhancing total defense capabilities for allied nations around the globe.
- Intelligent space technologies — innovating from the ocean’s depths to the farthest reaches of space.
CEO: Dave Calhoun
US based aviation and aerospace component manufacturing company Boeing was founded in 1916 and is now headquartered in Arlington, VA. The company develops, manufactures and services commercial aeroplanes, defence products and space systems for customers in more than 150 countries whilst being committed to innovating for the future, leading with sustainability, and cultivating a culture based on the company’s core values of safety, quality and integrity.
Christopher Raymond, Boeing’s Chief Sustainability Officer, has been recognised as one of the Top 100 leaders in Sustainability by Sustainability Magazine, and a top e-mobility leader by EV Magazine. Responsible for advancing Boeing’s approach on aerospace sustainability priorities, stakeholder-oriented engagement; reporting; and company performance, Raymond drives shared awareness of sustainability trends, opportunities and risks. He reports to the CEO and to the Governance and Public Policy committee of the Board.
The company’s sustainability focus is outlined in its sustainability report, which details its interest in SAF, as well as its electric plane endeavours.
“Boeing continues to invest and make progress on our journey to achieve a more sustainable aerospace future," says Raymond. “As we enter a new era of sustainable aerospace, we are committed to documenting our progress and outlining our path forward with transparency so our industry can progress, together."
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