In the end, as the morning sun rose up above the Blue Mountains of Oregon, a glimpse of another new dawn was taking place on the nearby tarmac of the Eastern Oregon Regional Airport, three miles northwest of Pendleton: the first launch of the Vahana Aero project, a self-piloting, electric-powered taxi called AlphaOne created by aerospace behemoths Airbus.
After two years of planning, engineering, tinkering and testing, AlphaOne went from a sketch on the back of a napkin to a full airborne debut lasting a mere 53 seconds from launch to safe landing. The helicopter-like taxi rose up to a respectable five metres off the ground and further testing will now take place on the single person aircraft as the company looks to democratise personal flights.
Blogging about the flight on vahana.aero, the head of Vahana Aero, Zach Lovering, wrote: ‘during our minute-long flight, the primary battery system used about 8% of its total energy, demonstrating that the vehicle is capable of much more.’ However, Airbus is not the only aerospace company delving into the world of electric air travel. Boeing and JetBlue are aiming to have a hybrid electric jet capable of carrying 12 people 700 miles by 2022, and the e-volo VC200 Volocopter is set to be tested in Dubai soon.
While the progression of technology could take years, these improvements will hopefully spell better news for the environment—something even countries are starting to take into consideration. Norway has said that it wants to test a commercial route using only electric planes by 2025, before making all short-haul flights 100% electric by 2040. According to the International Air Transport Association, 4,100,000,000 people fly each year with the global air transport network doubling in size at least once every 15 years.