Electric flight. Do pilots really care? The answer, according to our recent survey, isn’t just, “Yes,” but, “Hell, yes!”
The survey asked just two questions, but they were questions designed to elicit a wide range of response, and was there ever.
Our first question, “If and when electric planes become widely available with performance (including range) comparable to our current planes, would you switch to an electric model?” To be honest, we were expecting the majority of pilots to say, “No way.” But in fact, respondents to our survey were overwhelmingly open to switching from gas piston models to an electric-powered plane. Close to half (46%) said that they would “absolutely” switch to an electric plane if they had the chance, while another 36% said that they would be tempted, making for 82% of folks who responded voicing at least some openness to an electric future. Just 18% said that there was “no way” they’d switch from gas to juice.
Our second query was, “If you were to consider switching to an all-electric plane, what would be the primary reason?” The question was designed to get a feel for what the driving benefit to electric airplanes would be, by offering a list of four that electric propulsion would likely bring with it—reduced cost of operation, quieter operation, simplified operation and a smaller carbon footprint.
Of those, the runway winner was “reduced cost of operation,” which should not be surprising at all, since fuel and engine maintenance costs are the two biggest hits that owners of small planes take. With electric motors doing the work, you could ditch the avgas card and start plugging in. And because electric motors are far more reliable and longer lived than internal combustion engines, the cost savings could be revolutionary.
The second most attractive potential benefit on the list, quieter operation, got a surprising 8% of the respondents’ votes—quiet is nice, but is it better than dramatically lower costs? Well, to around 8% of respondents, it apparently is. The third option, “simplified operation,” might be the most revolutionary of the pack, as it could potentially open up flying to many more people simply because it would be easier to manage systems. We won’t even go into hot starts. Of those who participated in the survey, 17% chose this as the top attraction to electric flight. Finally, just over 10% said that a smaller carbon footprint would be the main driver for them to switch from bladders to batteries. Unfortunately, the design of the survey didn’t allow a ranked voting system to suss out finer data on pilots’ electric motivation. Expect that survey sometime soon, though.
Finally, 15% of respondents said that they’d never switch regardless of the benefits. We were guessing that this response would have gotten the majority of the votes. Instead, it garnered a very small minority of them.
Color us surprised… and delighted.