EasyJet joins forces with US startup to develop electric plane

London - EasyJet is working with a US engineering startup to develop a fully electric commercial plane within a decade, the low-cost British airline said on Wednesday.

Founded last year by a team of engineers and battery chemists, US-based Wright Electric is setting its sights on designing an aircraft that can fly 335 miles. That would cover 20% of the passengers EasyJet flies today, the airline said in a statement. Since demonstrating that the technology works in a two-seater plane, Wright has worked with EasyJet this year to scale up to commercial proportions.

Battery-powered planes offer a way to reduce fuel costs, typically among the biggest expense for airlines and proportionally more so for short-distance carriers like EasyJet. Being first to market with an electric aircraft potentially gives the Luton, England-based carrier a leg up against rivals such as Ireland’s Ryanair in an ultracompetitive market.

EasyJet’s average flight time is under two hours, so it wouldn’t be as constrained as long-distance carriers by the limited range of a battery-powered aircraft. Beyond saving on fuel costs, an electric plane also would cut emissions and noise, the airline said ahead of its annual innovation day at Gatwick Airport near London.

“Just as we have seen with the automotive industry, the aviation industry will be looking to electric technology to reduce our impact on the environment,” EasyJet CEO Carolyn McCall said in the statement. “For the first time, we can envisage a future without jet fuel and we are excited to be part of it. It is now more a matter of when, not if, a short-haul electric plane will fly.”

EasyJet’s insights have been “invaluable,” Wright Electric CEO Jeffrey Engler said in the statement. His company has received financial backing from Massachusetts, Harvard University and technology incubator Y Combinator, which has played a role in the growth of companies including AirBnB and Dropbox.

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