European low-cost airline EasyJet said it is working with Wright Electric, a Los Angeles electric plane startup that plans to eventually produce all-electric commercial jets. It's a sign of the aviation industry's increasing interest in electric-powered planes.
The collaboration doesn't involve any financial investment or promises of future plane orders on EasyJet's part. Rather, the airline is providing information to Wright Electric about what needs the startup should address when designing and building a plane for the commercial passenger market.
For example, Wright Electric Chief Executive Jeff Engler said, discussing route structures with EasyJet has helped his company figure out the minimum distance an all-electric airliner would need to fly.
Talks with maintenance staff enabled Wright Electric to understand how cargo enters and exits a plane and how high and wide the cargo doors need to be.
"Working with partners like this has been incredible," Engler said. "If you think about making any new product ... you want to make sure it's designed as specifically for the market as possible."
Wright Electric has already designed and flown a two-seat electric plane and plans to fly its second plane next year, with a larger, commercial-scale aircraft potentially by 2021. The 10-person startup was founded last year and has received funding from groups such as Silicon Valley accelerator Y Combinator.
Engler said Wright Electric's goal is to have a plane certified by the Federal Aviation Administration within a decade.
Companies and government agencies have been increasingly building small, experimental planes powered by electricity, intrigued by the promise of quieter and greener flights.
But the limitations of battery technology have largely limited these tests to smaller planes. Airplanes need lots of lithium-ion batteries to reach a significant range, and adding batteries increases an aircraft's weight.
In 2015, a two-seater Airbus electric plane flew over the English Channel, and the European aviation giant has said it is developing a second electric-powered plane. NASA, meanwhile, is working on an electric research plane known as the X-57 Maxwell that will test how electric propulsion can affect a plane's performance.