Electrification of Aircraft: Challenges, Barriers, and Potential Impacts

Amy Schwab, Anna Thomas, Jesse Bennett, Emma Robertson, Scott Cary

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


Small-scale aircraft are being electrified with small e-aircraft already certified to fly and with test flights underway for retrofits of existing aircraft focused on near-term deployment. Internationally, from 2018 to 2020, the number of electric aircraft projects underway increased 50%. These technologies are projected to increase operational efficiency and reduce emissions and noise from a growing aviation sector. This emerging interest in aviation electrification includes aircraft, energy supply equipment, and battery storage manufacturers. Federal agencies are currently funding a variety of efforts including technology research as well as forecasting demand and environmental impacts and state governments have also begun pushing for further investigation in this area. This paper provides an overview of the current state and potential future development of aviation electrification. To understand the types of research questions around current and future challenges for this emerging sector, we consider a case study of the potential deployment of small commercial electric aircraft for existing, under-served markets and consider operational requirements and technical challenges as well as the range of questions that will need to be addressed around charging infrastructure, grid integration, policy and regulatory requirements, and emissions impacts. This case study also outlines potential nearer-term solutions and research areas of interest that will need to be addressed in the longer term at much larger scales and highlights NREL capabilities for addressing these challenges.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages39
StatePublished - 2021

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-6A20-80220


  • aircraft electrification
  • electric aviation


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