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Electric planes in Channel crossing

Airbus has flown its electric plane across the English Channel for the first time, hours after a French pilot made a similar voyage in another electric plane - a symbolically important step towards making electronic flight viable in the long term.

European plane maker Airbus flew its E-fan electric plane, which operates exclusively on batteries, from Lydd, England, to Calais, France, this morning.

Since there is no oil or water, the 20ft long, 1,300lb jet releases zero emissions.

Several companies in different countries are trying to develop electric planes in the hope of offering a fuel-free and emissions-free flight alternative for the future.

Last night, pilot Hugues Duval flew from Dover, England, to Calais on a two-engine, one-seat Cri-Cri plane, which weighs about 220lb. He said he reached 90mph on his 30-mile journey.

Mr Duval said his successful flight was a "relief" and an "important moment" after years of developing the plane and flying it over land.

Airbus's E-fan made its maiden voyage in March last year, and has taken off 100 times since, its latest at Paris's International Air Show last month. Airbus aims to put the two-seater on the market in 2017, targeting sales at training facilities for entry-level pilots.

The choice of flight path was not coincidental: In 1909, French pilot Louis Bleriot was the first person to fly a plane across the English Channel.

Safety was of secondary priority for Bleriot - he was concentrating on winning £1,000 in prize money from the Daily Mail by performing the feat first.

For Airbus's flight, security professionals were out in full force, with helicopters and rescue speedboats trailing the E-fan.

Electric flight is a nascent sector of the aviation industry, so safety regulations for planes like the E-fan are still in development. Airbus and the French Direction of Civil Aviation worked together to create a test flight programme for the jets.

While the E-fan only seats two for now, the aircraft manufacturer is aiming bigger down the line. Chief technical officer Jean Botti said: "Our objective here is to make a hybrid-electric hundred seater for the future."

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