Since the Wright brothers’ first flight in 1903 air travel has continued to inspire people around the world and airlines have helped drive innovation in travel and quality of life. As more and more people travel and become increasingly aware of their carbon footprint, flying has come under the spotlight as one of the most polluting industries, but also as one with the most potential to turn things around. Renewable energy has continued its upward trend on land as governments look to more responsible and sustainable sources of energy, whilst car manufacturers have also been implementing more hybrid and electric models within their lines - and airlines will soon follow.
After Solar Impulse 2 completed the world’s first circumnavigation by a solar-powered aircraft in 2016, airlines and aircraft manufacturers looked to become the first to provide a commercial equivalent. Bertrand Piccard, one of the pilots responsible for Solar Impulse 2’s journey, stressed the importance of renewable energy to The Guardian, saying: “All the clean technologies we use, they can be used everywhere. So we have flown 40,000km, but now it is up to other people to take it further. These technologies now can make the world much better and we have to use them, not only for the environment but also because they are profitable and create jobs.”
The following year saw multiple projects funded as the airline industry acknowledged the future of low-carbon transportation methods. In 2017, Zunum Aero, a small aviation startup focused on delivering a range of hybrid-electric planes received investments from JetBlue and Boeing, whilst EasyJet teamed up with Wright Electric to develop battery-powered aircraft and NASA also announced its plans to develop its own electric aircraft.