Aviation is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gases. In the United States, commercial flights produce approximately 805 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. This represents approximately 2% of all US emissions and approximately 3.5% of global aviation emissions.
Reducing the environmental impact of aviation is a challenge as there are few technological options to reduce aircraft engine emissions and the demand for air travel is growing. Unlike ground electric vehicles, putting batteries and electric motors in an aircraft is a very different proposition. On the one hand, the power-to-weight ratio means that electric planes would have to be much bigger and heavier than their fossil-fueled counterparts, which is not ideal for a mode of transport focused on speed and efficiency. , and you certainly can’t just carry batteries and leave no capacity for people and/or cargo.
Luckily, there are still companies tackling the problem and trying to bring electric planes to market not only, but in a way that is viable for real-world use cases. One such company, which we have been covering since 2017, is Eviation. Over time the designs have changed a lot from what they were a few years ago, but slow and steady progress has been made and has recently led to a major milestone.
The company has proven that a viable electric plane can actually fly and that its design survives the real world instead of just being on paper or in simulations. To learn more about this, I recommend that you read my colleague Tina’s article.
Before we get into how the aircraft could transform the industry, let’s explore a bit of background and briefly discuss the first flight so we can all be on the same page.
The road from here to here
In our 2018 coverage, the company revealed key details of its strategy and technology.
According to its CEO, flying a business jet costs an average of $3,000 an hour. However, an electric aircraft practically reduces this cost by 90%. Additionally, since an electric plane is 92-95% more efficient than any kerosene counterpart, it must also meet the same weight restrictions when landing. Although it may seem complex, all modern airliners are designed this way so that they can take off and land with exactly the same weight in an emergency. Thus, not “losing weight” during a flight is not a big challenge for the designers.
The company said viable flight is truly achievable with a 400Wh/kg battery, and the batteries being manufactured today are, in fact, energy dense enough to operate. For Alice, the battery represents 65% of the aircraft’s weight with 900 kWh. The electric motors produce 3×260 kW of power. This gives the Alice a service ceiling of 30,000 feet (9,144 m) and an approach landing speed of 100 knots.
Prior to May 2019, Eviation selected the magniX magni250 propulsion system for its aircraft. The company’s goal was to be the first to offer a fully operational electric transport aircraft. With a maximum takeoff weight of 6,350 kg (about 14,000 lb), the Alice electric passenger plane is expected to cruise for 650 miles (208 nm) at about 240 knots (276 MPH), with a service ceiling of 30 000 feet – enough to clear traffic on hour-long flights.
in June 2019, just after the unveiling of the electric plane in Paris, Eviation reportedly secured its first buyer, Cape Air. By 2021, the design was complete and the company was preparing for the track. They originally planned to fly in 2021, but things didn’t go as planned and it took longer than they expected.
Later last year, Eviation took on another client: DHL. At the time, the world’s first electric air cargo network would be created by DHL when it agreed to purchase 12 Alice electric cargo planes from Eviation. The 12 aircraft will be used in DHL’s operations in the United States. In 2024, Eviation expects DHL Express to receive the zero-emission cargo plane.
Now Eviation has completed a test flight
At 7:10 a.m. on September 27, Alice took off from Grant County International Airport (MWH). For 8 minutes, he flew at an altitude of 3,500 feet; this was the first flight of the technology demonstrator. Eviation collected crucial data from the flight to help optimize the aircraft for commercial production.
“Today we enter the next era of aviation – we have successfully electrified the skies with Alice’s unforgettable first flight,” said Eviation President and CEO Gregory Davis. “People now know what affordable, clean and sustainable aviation looks like for the first time in an all-electric fixed-wing aircraft. This groundbreaking step will be at the forefront of innovation in sustainable air travel and will shape both passenger and cargo transportation in the future.
Eviation customers were thrilled to see the aircraft succeed in its flight.
“Alice’s maiden flight represents an important step in the transformation of the aviation industry,” said Dan Wolf, Founder and Chairman of the Board of Cape Air. “We currently operate over 400 regional flights per day, connecting over 30 cities across the United States and the Caribbean. Alice can easily cover 80% of our flight operations, providing sustainable, emissions-free travel to the communities we serve. »
DHL was also pleased to see that its order for 12 cargo planes was getting closer to reality.
“Alice’s maiden flight confirms our belief that the era of sustainable aviation has arrived,” said Geoff Kehr, Senior Vice President, Global Fleet Management, DHL Express. “With our order for 12 Alice e-cargo planes, we are investing in our overall goal of zero emissions logistics. DHL is leading the industry in introducing new types of more durable cargo aircraft to the global market. Alice is truly a game-changer by enabling emission-free long-haul air travel for the first time. This historic flight marks an important milestone on our journey to achieving net zero emissions by 2050.”
Updated aircraft information
As we know, Alice is a zero-emission, silent and economically efficient mode of transport. It costs a fraction to operate per flight hour than light jets or high-end turboprops and produces zero carbon emissions. But, getting details on the final design and what it can actually do is important, especially for potential buyers and investors.
The final design has a maximum operating speed of 260 knots (about 300 MPH, 481 km/h). The maximum load for the passenger versions will be 2,500 pounds or 2,600 pounds for the cargo version of the aircraft.
The six-seat ExecuCar is offered in three versions, with a nine-seat Commuter Car, a sleek and sophisticated six-seat Executive Cabin and an eCargo variant. All configurations can accommodate two crew members. The Executive Cab and eCargo versions are the same as the Commuter model except for the interior.
Alice is powered by two electric propulsion units from magniX. They are the only flight-proven electric propulsion systems on this scale, and they reduce noise pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Other key suppliers include AVL (battery carrier), GKN (wings), Honeywell (advanced electric flight control system, flight controls and avionics), Multiplast (fuselage), Parker Aerospace (six technology systems), Potez (doors) .
The company also claims that the battery system is removable and upgradable, which means that in the future, as battery technology improves, users will be able to experience better battery life, performance, and possibly better payload. The aircraft’s fly-by-wire cockpit provides improved system reliability and redundancy, according to the manufacturer.
In Part 2, I’ll explain how this small, yet much cheaper to operate aircraft could transform the industry and make air travel fun again!
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