For Rolf Stuber, CEO of smartflyer AG, the future of flying is electric. Founded in 2016 in Grenchen, his company is developing a four-seater aircraft with a hybrid engine that can reach a speed of 222 kilometres per hour and fly up to 920 kilometres in one stretch. Production is scheduled for next year, with the first flight to follow in 2021.
Grenchen is the ideal location for the former Swiss and Swiss Air Force pilot’s project – primarily because the airport is seeking to become a European hub for electric flights. It benefits from its location at the heart of Europe and the strengths of the region in the west of the Greater Zurich Area in microelectronics and electrical engineering, according to Stuber.
It also boasts two universities of applied sciences – the FHNW University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland in Olten and the Bern University of Applied Sciences in Biel. Overall, Switzerland too is well positioned in the emerging sector of electric flights. Stuber highlights the memorandum of understanding between RUAG and Siemens to build a 20-seater electric aircraft in the coming years.
As a mark of its prowess, Grenchen hosts the smartflyer challenge every year. The competition for European electric planes was first held in 2017 and the second edition will follow this weekend, with several companies from the Greater Zurich Area lining up to compete. Ruppert Composite GmbH from Wald in the canton of Zurich will showcase its single-seater Archaeopteryx electro, while E-FORCE ONE AG from Fehraltorf in the same canton will be competing with its Electric 18 Ton Truck.
There will also be flights by electric planes from elsewhere. AlpinAirPlanes GmbH from Ecuvillens in the canton of Fribourg will fly several made by Slovenian Pipistrel Aircraft, while Flying Expert from southern Germany will showcase its electric glider Sing 120 e-drive.
Part of an international network, smartflyer challenge is now an official partner event of AERO, the global aviation exhibition in Friedrichshafen. Grenchen has one big advantage, however: unlike on Lake Constance, it allows the planes to perform in the air.