The Guardian: Green energy tycoon to launch UK’s first electric airline

The green energy tycoon Dale Vince is planning to launch Britain’s first electric airline in a move designed to prove polluting industries can decarbonise.

Ecojet, styled as a “flag carrier for green Britain”, will launch early next year with a 19-seater plane travelling on a route between Edinburgh and Southampton.

The planes will run initially on kerosene-based fuel for the first year, before being retrofitted with engines that convert green hydrogen into electricity.

Vince founded the UK’s first green energy company, Ecotricity, in 1995 and has spent his career launching low-carbon and ethically minded ventures across energy, transport, food and football. He is the chair of League Two’s Forest Green Rovers, known as the “world’s greenest football club”.

Vince told the Guardian: “We want to prove that one of the last frontiers [of decarbonisation] can be broken and that it’s not insolvable.

“A lot of people seem to think that people who are eco-conscious want everyone to live a life of self-denial in a cave. Green living is not about giving things up – everything we like to have in this life can be done in a net zero life.”

The airline will launch with several green-striped 19-seater planes capable of travelling for 300 miles. Vince hopes to expand the number of routes out to cover all of Britain’s big cities.

Staff will wear environmentally friendly uniforms, and serve plant-based meals.

A second phase, 18 months later, will result in 70-seater planes capable of flying to Europe being introduced. The company is in the process of applying for a licence from the Civil Aviation Authority and securing takeoff and landing slots at airports.

However, the process of launching an airline is regarded as slow, and Ecojet will not launch as an electric plane operator, starting by using kerosene-based fuel instead.

Vince admitted he was not entirely happy with starting the project by burning fossil fuels but said that the airline needed to launch quickly to secure planes and landing slots and “keep up the momentum” of the project.

“It does feel like a contradiction but at the heart of this project is upcycling existing planes and retrofitting them. This is the pragmatic approach, which means we won’t lose time. We will build up the infrastructure, get the planes in the air and swap in the engines when they are available.”

The aviation industry is examining various options to decarbonise, including electric flight and the use of sustainable aviation fuel, a biofuel that can be made from agricultural products. Vince labelled SAF “bullshit”. He said: “There is nowhere near enough land to grow the crops you’d need.”

A collection of startups and aviation companies, including the engine maker Rolls-Royce in the UK and a charter firm in Australia, have been working on electric flight. Vince said that while there was “a lot of hype and guff about the hydrogen economy, mainly from fossil fuel companies”, it was well suited to flight as it was “super light” and the significant energy needed in its production was justified in allowing green aviation.

Vince said Ecojet would “price match” existing airlines on air fares and was intended to attract a mass market, beyond environment-conscious consumers. He said he would invest £1m initially but plans to raise further funds next year.

The Virgin Atlantic founder, Richard Branson, reportedly once remarked: “If you want to be a millionaire, start with a billion dollars and launch a new airline.” Vince said: “They say the same about football clubs.

“I want to prove that it can be done and it’s worthwhile. We do not think it will be loss-making. Our priority is to be in the air with this newfound ability to fly without a carbon footprint. This will complete the [low carbon] puzzle for us – the emotional impact will be big.”

To protect the environment, Vince does not take flights but he intends to when his airline launches.

Labour has come under pressure in recent months for taking £1.5m from Vince over 10 years. The tycoon has also donated thousands of pounds to Just Stop Oil.