Despite fuel efficiency changes to conventional, fossil fuel powered aircraft, it has recently been estimated that by 2050, 43 Gt of carbon pollution could come from aircraft if a ‘business as usual’ scenario were adopted. The combustion of hydrocarbons in aviation fuel also leads to the emission of harmful oxides of nitrogen and particulates. Future air quality legislation could limit air travel; cleaner power alternatives could provide the answer.
Electrical power sources have been used in aircraft since 1973, though this was for a motor glider carrying 2 people for 12 minutes. Modern attempts at building electrical aircraft have successfully increased the flight time but load carrying capacity and turn-around time remain constraints. More information about the current situation is available here:
Your company has been tasked to come up with a proposal for implementing a commercial electrical or hybrid aircraft design into the worldwide fleet by 2050, with the aim of significantly reducing the dependence on fossil fuels for air travel. You will need to first understand the current number of flights, especially the proportions of long haul/short haul flights and working out which aircraft would be of greatest cost efficiency to replace.
Your proposal for commercial electric aircraft should include an estimation of research, manufacturing and operating costs. You should also have an implementation plan for introducing your designed aircraft and phasing out conventional aircraft.
You will need to come up with a design for your electric/hybrid aircraft with considerations to the following aspects: power source (fully electric or a hybrid?), engine type, aircraft shape etc. A major consideration will be the infrastructure requirements your aircraft will place upon aviation across the world. How will your aircraft be fueled and how long will turnaround times be?
You will have to consider the major market factors that will affect the viability of your design. Will you have to increase the number of aircraft in service to accommodate long recharging times or can you find a method/design for quick-charging of the power source? What range can your design achieve and therefore how many routes could it replace conventional aircraft on? What is the carry capacity of your design or what is the estimated number of passengers needed per flight to be profitable?
You will need to consider aircraft safety in your design for it to be viable. Novel or energy generating materials might be useful, but they will need to fulfill at least the current safety requirements for commercial aircraft. Aircraft are currently designed with a carefully selected mix of light alloys and composites to be as light as possible. Could your aircraft be lighter still?
What will be the cost of designing a new, commercially viable electric/hybrid aircraft? What price will you be looking at selling your aircraft at to be desirable enough for airline operators to buy over a conventional aircraft? Will you need government subsidy or incentives for these operators to purchase your electrical aircraft?