Rolls-Royce is looking to an electric future, as its chief executive, Warren East, positions the FTSE 100 engineer at the forefront of the next revolution in aviation: aircraft powered by fans.

East, setting out his plans to return the company to profit after one of the most troubled periods in its history, said Rolls needed to be reshaped so that it could help to lead a number of big technological changes, including one of the most ground-breaking of all, electrically powered aircraft.

The idea of jet engines one day being replaced by electric propulsion has long been dismissed because of the limited distance that existing designs are able to travel.

Warren East, Rolls Royce chief executive. Photo / Getty Images
Warren East, Rolls Royce chief executive. Photo / Getty Images

However, in an interview with

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The Sunday Telegraph

, East signalled that Rolls was now taking the concept seriously, and not just for small planes.

"There's a lot of chatter about hybrid electric flight, not just little aeroplanes but regional aeroplanes. I'm convinced we will see these things happen sooner rather than later," he said, adding: "There is a race on. We need to be ready by 2020 because people are talking about entry into service by 2030."

East was parachuted into Rolls in July 2015 after a catalogue of troubles.