Airport Transportation Goes Cleaner on Electric Power

(Bloomberg) -- Last week, Uber Technologies Inc. hosted its second annual Elevate Summit for “on-demand aviation.” Chief Executive Officer Dara Khosrowshahi told Bloomberg that the company “can’t be just about cars, it has to be about mobility,” with the company unveiling its plans for an all-electric air taxi. Meanwhile, Boeing Co. is developing hybrid electric aircraft, which could “become competitive with other forms of regional transportation like rail and road,” a company executive told my Bloomberg colleague Bryony Collins. Boeing hopes the aircraft will eventually transport cargo as well as people.

Inexpensive, reliable flying personal transportation is a decades-old dream, and realizing it may still take decades yet. But electrification is already underway at airports, if not in the skies. 

Last month, Los Angeles World Airports approved the purchase of 20 battery-electric buses, which will replace Los Angeles International’s existing fleet of diesel buses that transport passengers between terminals and gates. LAWA says the buses will help the city of Los Angeles meet its emissions reduction goals while providing users with a quieter ride.

Buses like the ones destined for LAX are a small but growing source of carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. Transit buses made up just 1.3 percent of road transport emissions in 2016, but they were also the only emissions source with a positive compound growth rate from 2007 to 2016. (Passenger car emissions declined during the financial crisis but are back on an upward trajectory.)

A decade ago, 80 percent of the U.S.’s total transit bus fleet ran on diesel. By 2015, that number was 51 percent, as economics and air-quality concerns drove adoption of gas-powered and hybrid buses.

Airlines operate their own large vehicle fleets at airports, and at least one has already electrified its fleet completely. In November, Air New Zealand became the first airline to join the EV100 initiative, completing the transition of its light vehicles to all-electric ones last year.

And just last week, a travel services company at London’s Heathrow Airport announced plans to provide as many as 200 fully electric Jaguar vehicles for passengers to use to and from the airport. That fleet, says operator WeKnowGroup, “will support up to 1,000 electric vehicle journeys to and from Heathrow,” and will be charged at what Heathrow says will be the largest dedicated charging hub in the U.K.

Airports provide plenty of potential for electrifying vehicles: They have space, infrastructure, defined traffic patterns and millions of potential customers every year. They also have professional managers and significant budgets for infrastructure upgrades and new equipment. Electric aviation may still be on its way up, but for now, there’s plenty of electrification to be done on the ground.

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