Photo credit: Benjamin Suter
by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition, and Honorary Chair, Quiet American Skies, and Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition
The lead story in the business section of The New York Times on November 8 highlighted that battery-powered aircraft will bring forth a “new era” in travel. The aircraft featured in the article was built by Beta Technologies and recently completed a flight from Vermont to Florida. Because of the limited range of electric planes — for this model, 100 to 150 miles on a single charge — the trip took 16 days.
As reporter Niraj Chokshi wrote, “the trip offered a vision of what aviation could look like years from now — one in which the skies are filled with aircraft that do not emit the greenhouse gases that are dangerously warming up the earth.” That’s good for the environment, but there’s no real mention of just how much noise these new electric planes make. General Aviation News reports that electric planes are quieter than traditional ones but the European Union Against Aircraft Nuisance (UECNA) reports that they are still too noisy.
But the article does mention twice that this specific plane is relatively quiet. The person who will fly the new aircraft said that it is “incredibly quiet and responsive, making it a pleasure to fly.” Pilots are even able to take off their helmets in the plane and talk to each other. Bristow Group, a customer of the aircraft company, expects the vehicles to create new opportunities because they are quieter than helicopters.
After its flight, the plane was delivered to the U.S. Air Force for further experimentation. It can carry about 1,250 pounds of cargo, and will soon be followed by the A250, which will have lift rotors to take off and land like a helicopter. Beta Technologies is one of many companies working on battery-powered aircraft, mainly aiming to ferry passengers short distances, like from Manhattan to JFK International Airport.
Many companies are working on electric aircraft, from small startups to major aerospace companies. And these companies increasingly have considerable financial backing. The Federal Aviation Administration aims to support electric aircraft use, although it has yet to certify any electric planes. Finally, the industry recognizes that developing trust in the new aircraft is important.
These planes are seen as viable replacements for helicopters and short-flight aircraft. Electric aircraft will compete with helicopters, cars, and trucks. In the near future, these electronic planes may be used for moving people in, out, and around big cities. In cities like New York or Los Angeles, widespread use won’t be possible until appropriate landing sites for vertical takeoff and landing are developed. Here in Los Angeles, there are nascent plans for electric aircraft to be used to fly over our notoriously gridlocked freeway traffic during the 2028 Olympics.
The article emphasizes that what was once a fantasy will soon be a reality. It was wonderful to see the importance of quiet in the skies as companies move toward a future with battery-powered aircraft.