Aerial image of Exeter Airport (c) Still Imaging
Exeter Airport from the air (c) Still Imaging

The first electric commuter flight in the UK will take place at Exeter Airport, following the announcement of a successful bid to UK Research and Innovation’s £30 million Future Flight Challenge.

Ampaire, a leader in electric aviation, will lead a consortium to test regional electric aviation transport.  The team has received £2.4M from the Future Flight Challenge for its £5M 2ZERO programme (Towards Zero Emissions in Regional Aircraft Operations), to demonstrate hybrid-electric aircraft on regional routes in the South West of the UK.  

The 2ZERO (Towards Zero Emissions in Regional Aircraft Operations) programme involves putting in place and testing the infrastructure needed to enable the future of electric planes within existing airport and airline operations. It will see electric aircraft testbed flights taking off at Exeter Airport and flying to Newquay Airport. 

Councillor Paul Arnott, Leader of East Devon District Council, welcomed the news:

The Airport has probably seen the heaviest impact from the pandemic of any business in East Devon. We are keen to support a green recovery rather than just a return to business  as usual and today’s announcement is a  really important step towards this.  It will ensure that the Airport can act as a test bed for new technologies including electric flight and can play a leading role in helping to meet the global challenge of decarbonising the aviation industry.  This fits very well with the emphasis already placed on science, technology and engineering in the Exeter and East Devon Enterprise Zone.

The bid was submitted by a consortium led by Ampaire, a leader in electric aviation, with partners including Exeter Airport: Rolls-Royce Electrical, University of Nottingham, Loganair Ltd, Exeter and Devon Airports Ltd, Cornwall Airport Ltd, Heart of the Southwest Local Enterprise Partnership (HotSWLEP), and UK Power Network Services.

The Ampaire team has received a share of £30 million from the Future Flight Challenge for its 2ZERO proposal to demonstrate hybrid-electric aircraft on regional routes in the South West of the UK. The project is funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

The demonstration flights will be carried out using Ampaire’s six-seat Electric EEL aircraft and, in a later phase, with a 19-seat Eco Otter, hybrid-electric retrofit of the workhorse Twin Otter commuter aircraft. These testbed aircraft will be used to develop and evaluate requirements for a fully integrated electric aviation infrastructure. 

The 2ZERO team believes that an effective demonstration of hybrid-electric aircraft in an integrated system, including the necessary charging and battery storage infrastructure, could catalyse a fundamental shift in regional airline operations. Emissions would be reduced by up to 70 percent with hybrid-electric aircraft and entirely with a subsequent generation of all-electric aircraft. 

Successful demonstration up to 19 seats and 1 MW of power will help to shape regulations and standards which currently have gaps for these new classes of aircraft and airport operations.  2ZERO is an important step towards being part of an exciting new market, forecast by UBS to be worth $178 to $192 billion globally between 2028 and 2040. 

Andrew Bell, from Exeter Airport said:

Our 2ZERO programme is incredibly exciting for us and the South West region. Exeter is an important regional airport and this project really puts us on the map as a forward-looking airport and demonstrates our commitment, along with our partners, to making the future of aviation a sustainable one.

Karl Tucker, chair of Heart of the SW LEP, said:

We’re delighted to be part of this successful consortium bid to UKRI. The South West has so much to offer, including boasting the most highly skilled workforce in the aerospace sector and our smart aviation cluster. This programme is a huge step forwards in transforming the future of air travel and helping the UK to achieve its target of net carbon flights by 2050.

Susan Ying, Ampaire Senior Vice President for Global Partnerships, said:

For electric aviation to become commonplace, and play a significant role in reducing greenhouse gases, we need to look at not only electric aircraft but the entire ecosystem to support electric aviation. That will be a key aim of the 2ZERO programme.

Andy Smith, Head of Sustainability Strategy, Loganair Ltd, said:

Loganair are very pleased to be part of this consortium of leading experts in this field. During the course of the project, Loganair pilots and engineers will gain experience operating Ampaire’s EEL and provide feedback to ensure that future commercial aircraft incorporating this technology are effective transport solutions not just for Scotland and the South West, but the wider, global market.

The 2ZERO project will run until May 2022.

Please see below a full list of 2ZERO programme participants:

·       Ampaire: for programme leadership and testbed aircraft. Ampaire is a leader in the development of practical electric aircraft, focusing initially on hybrid-electric solutions that can enter the market in the near term. The company has a track record of rapid aircraft development, with examples of its ground-breaking six-seat Electric EEL aircraft in flight test and demonstration flights operating for more than a year. Ampaire will provide an Electric EEL (a Cessna 337 upgraded to hybrid-electric power). In an anticipated third phase of the programme, 2ZERO plans to test a hybrid-electric 19-seat Ampaire Eco Otter SX conversion of the Twin Otter developed in conjunction with Rolls-Royce.

·       Rolls-Royce:  The company is an industrial technology company focused on world-class power and propulsion systems. Rolls-Royce has world-class domain knowledge and a growing electrical systems capability within its Rolls-Royce Electrical business division, a globally operating unit with engineers located in six countries. Rolls-Royce's role in 2ZERO includes development, coordination and management of the electric propulsion unit and battery system development. For a planned Phase 3, Rolls Royce will also participate to ensure the successful flight test demonstration of the 19-seat Eco Otter.

o   Rolls-Royce will supply a novel electrical propulsion unit with certifiable safety features and high-efficiency, scaled-up power level in the 600 kW class.

o   Rolls-Royce will also develop a swappable battery system that satisfies the fast turnaround times required by high aircraft utilisation rates for airline operations. This step change revolutionises the overall battery thermal management system, enabling heat balance, minimising weight, and retaining the full safety case.

·       University of Nottingham (UoN) has extensive experience in air transportation system modelling and simulation (M&S) as well as electrification of aviation and systems integration. UoN will lead the M&S activities, working with airline and airport partners, to assess the impact on costs, operations and crew rostering for operating a fleet of hybrid-electric vehicles. The objective is to develop an optimised electric aviation ecosystem, including aircraft, airports, power distribution and storage.

·       Loganair Ltd is the largest UK regional airline and headquartered in Glasgow, providing its operational experience and requirements to support modelling and simulation, and definition of a commercially viable hybrid-electric 19-seat aircraft. Additionally, Loganair will provide pilots trained by Ampaire to operate the electrified aircraft for the flight demonstration of the 19-seat aircraft in 2ZERO’s phase 3.

·       Exeter and Devon Airport Ltd and Cornwall Airport Ltd, the operators of Exeter Airport and Cornwall Airport Newquay respectively, have the ambition to provide clean aviation mobility to their regions. Their roles are to provide inputs to the models as well as working with hybrid-electric aircraft operators Ampaire and Loganair to ensure charging operations can be accomplished safely and efficiently. They will also assess access to local renewable electricity sources.

·       Heart of the South-West Local Enterprise Partnership (HOTSWLEP) is one of 38 LEPs in England, with the mission to lead and influence economic growth, job creation and prosperity across the Heart of the South West area. Through HOTSWLEP, the 2ZERO team can tap into the  iAero, South West Aerospace cluster of global prominence, and the region’s Smart Aviation Cluster for a wide range of skills and consultation in technical challenges.

·       UK Power Networks Services will be subcontracted to advise on matters related to airport electrical infrastructure, to realise charging solutions for the demonstrations, and to provide advice and input for infrastructure needs and impact for a future scale-up to wide use of electric aircraft, connecting power demand to sustainable electrical power sources.