This month, Popular Mechanics had an interesting article where writer David Noland asked: “Who’s Klling the Electric Plane?” Noland begins his piece by mentioning (with some irony) that while the USA government will attempt to jumpstart the electric car industry by providing US$2.4 billion in research funds, funding for electric aircraft is being held back.
Why? Apparently, FAA rules prohibit electric motors in light sport aircraft (LSA) because this class of aircraft is typically flown by less experienced pilots. Hence, LSAs in the USA can only be powered by reciprocating engines and this rule is thwarting the sale of electric airplanes in the USA. The article quotes the FAA’s Steve Flanagan (who helped write the LSA rules) as saying:
“We’re reluctant to introduce new technology on a less experienced pilot population. We need to get some more flight experience with electric motors.”
Certainly a logical point of view if you are a bureaucrat and perhaps from a safety standpoint but I am not so sure whether now is the time we want to kill innovation in the aviation sector given the state of the economy (and not to mention, growing concerns about the environment and aviation’s impact on it).
Anyway, Noland’s article also takes a look at a few innovative electric planes such as the Boeing Demonstrator, the Electravia Alatus and the Sonex e-Flight that are unavailable to sport pilots under the current FAA rules plus his article has already had a number of interesting posted comments – including several anti-FAA comments plus some additional comments about LSAs and biofuels in general that are worth reading.