The National Academies

ACRP 03-51 [Final]

Electric Aircraft on the Horizon -- An Airport Planning Perspective

  Project Data
Research Agency: WSP USA
Principal Investigator: Gael Le Bris
Effective Date: 6/14/2019
Completion Date: 6/15/2021

Design innovation for electrically powered and hybrid-electric aircraft is accelerating rapidly, with the possibility of electric aircraft being rolled out in the next 5 years. There are many potential benefits of electric aircraft, including lower O&M costs and reduced environmental impacts. But not all air service can be replaced by electrically powered aircraft, as batteries are heavy and significantly less energy dense compared with conventional aviation fuels, and electric aircraft may have different flight characteristics. Yet in certain applications (e.g., short-haul and cargo service), electric power may be more efficient than traditional power. The advent of electric aircraft offers both significant opportunities and disruptions for airports and their surrounding communities. Airports may have new roles to play regarding energy generation and transmission; at the same time, electric aircraft may impact revenue from fuel sales. Airports need guidance to be ready for the introduction and accommodation of electric aircraft into the airport environment.
The objective of this research is to prepare a guidebook for airport industry practitioners to account for electric aircraft operations in their planning efforts. The guidebook should include, at a minimum: 
  • An electric aircraft industry and market overview that provides:
    • A summary (up to 2 pages) of electric aircraft evolution;
    • A discussion of related national and global industry, technology, political, legislative, air service, employment, and social trends;
    • A discussion of related electric industry trends, including renewable and distributed generation, micro-grids and energy storage, and strategic electrification;
    • A summary of the potential impact of electric aircraft on airport facilities, terminal airspace, operations, planning, finances, and environmental sustainability; and
    • A discussion of the level of uncertainty about electric aircraft technology development and adoption, and its potential impact on airports;
  • Tools (e.g., rules-of-thumb, decision trees, checklists, flow charts) for incorporating electric aircraft activity into the planning process and that account for an airport’s and community’s unique characteristics; and
  • A glossary.
The guidebook should include methods and guidance to help practitioners:
  • Estimate lifecycle cost related to enabling electric aircraft operations;
  • Develop scenario-based electric aircraft activity forecasts (including share of operations made by electric aircraft versus traditionally powered aircraft, number of operations, fleet mix, peaking characteristics) that consider local conditions (e.g., socioeconomics, geography, climate, and current passenger and cargo air service characteristics) and reflect the significant level of uncertainty surrounding the timing and degree of adoption for this emerging technology;
  • Determine airport facility requirements for electric aircraft operations (e.g., power infrastructure, airfield, airspace, gate size/layout) and gauge their potential impact on traditionally powered aircraft facility requirements (fuel delivery and storage systems);
  • Estimate an airport’s total annual and peak-hour electric power demand, considering not only electric aircraft operations but also the growth of electric power needs from other terminal, landside, and airside operations;
  • Consider backup electrical system needs;
  • Estimate financial implications for the airport and local community;
  • Estimate environmental (e.g., emissions, local air quality, noise) and land use compatibility implications;
  • Consider potential IT requirements for new electrical aircraft;
  • Consider impact on airport staffing levels and training; and
  • Incorporate considerations for electric aircraft in their master plans, financial plans, and environmental plans while recognizing the significant level of uncertainty surrounding this new technology.
Research is complete.  Results published in ACRP Research Report 236.

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