The electric aircraft market feels a bit like the electric car market in 2005 or 2010. We have a handful of startups trying to get off the ground, we have fun and exciting concept vehicles that will be available … someday, and we have large legacy airplane makers dipping their toes in the waters with a variety of acquisitions, partnership, and R&D projects. One of the companies that has long flown pretty high above the crowd is Eviation.
We started covering Eviation in June 2017, if not earlier. This was before it had even unveiled “Alice,” its first planned airplane. However, concept drawings it used at the time look very similar to what it plans to bring to market next year. “Eviation believes a growing number of regional flight operators might take a certain liking to their electric aircraft,” Nicolas Zart wrote at the time. “While most current electric aircraft are modified or converted regular gasoline planes, Eviation decided to go another route — it decided to design its next aircraft electric from the get go. Designing from a blank slate allows for a review of every component, as well as its relationship to the aircraft. In this case, the airframe, propeller, and motor were highly maximized for flight efficiency, which of course means that their energy usage was made more efficient.”
In 2018, the name was set — Alice — and the airplane was expected to have 9 seats. Nicolas interviewed Eviation CEO Omer Bar-Yohay about the plans. “After spending minutes on the phone with Omer, it was clear his passion for electric aviation makes Eviation Aircraft a serious contender in the electric aviation world.” He also opened up about some of the details:
“Omer says flying a business jet averages around $3,000 per hour. An electric airplane slashes that cost by about 90%. Since an electric aircraft is 92 to 95% more efficient than its kerosene counterpart, it also has to take into consideration the same weight when it lands. While this might sound puzzling, modern airliners are designed to take off and land with the same full weight constraints in case of emergency. (If not, I wouldn’t set foot in any.)
“I expected Omer to be vague with the battery specs, but he told me all of this was achievable with a 400Wh/kg battery, which is less than twice that of most modern prognostics. With 900 kWh, the battery pack makes up 65% of the weight of the aircraft. The electric motors produce 3× 260 kW of power. This gives the Alice a service ceiling of 30,000 ft (9,144 m) and an approach landing speed of 100 knots.”
By May 2019, Eviation had selected the magniX magni250 propulsion system to power the airplane. Eviation’s ambition was to be the first company to offer a “fully operational” commuter electric plane. “With a maximum takeoff weight of 6,350 kg (about 14,000 lb), the Alice electric passenger aircraft should fly 650 miles (208 nm) cruising at about 240 knots (276 MPH), with a service ceiling of 30,000 feet — enough to clear traffic on hour-long flights,” Nicolas wrote.
“We have been successfully testing the magniX system with our Alice aircraft propeller for quite some time now with great results. We will begin manufacturing battery-powered fleets this year for our U.S. regional carrier customers, with a value proposition that reduces their operating costs by up to 70 percent,” Omer Bar-Yohay said. “In 2017, Americans spent $1 trillion traveling distances between 50 and 650 miles. Our goal is to undercut the cost of commuting by making middle mile trips cheaper, faster and cleaner. Together with magniX we’re providing an economically and environmentally sustainable mobility solution that will forever change the face of aviation, and consumer travel.”
A short time later, in June 2019, right after unveiling the electric airplane in Paris, Eviation had reportedly secured its first buyer, Cape Air. “Although the scale of the purchase hasn’t been released, a few sources are estimating the number to be as high as double-digit purchase options,” Nicolas Zart wrote at the time. “Omer feels the Alice is ready to begin its flight testing period this year, with an aim for certification by 2021. Eviation hopes to enter service by 2022.”
Was the company’s plan too ambitious? Seemingly not. In November 2020, Eviation said it was indeed on track to deliver its first Alice electric airplanes to customer in 2022. Yes, that customer is still Cape Air, which is a regional aircraft carrier in New England, USA. Steve Hanley provided an update on the dream of the electric aviation startup. “Alice is built for regional flights up to 650 miles at a cruising speed of 276 mph. That covers journeys like from San Jose to San Diego or London to Prague. While conventional planes fly faster, electric planes like Alice are 2 to 3 orders of magnitude quieter than commercial jet aircraft and could use shorter runways. Those factors mean they can fly into and out of smaller airports that are closer to travelers’ final destinations.”
“‘I think it’s important that the industry looks at its responsibilities to the planet and makes itself more sustainable in terms of emissions, but it needs to work economically,’ Bar-Yohay says. Alice costs about $200 per flight hour to operate. A turboprop with similar performance costs between $1,200 and $2,000 per flight hour, meaning ticket prices for Alice could be substantially less than those for conventional aircraft. Lots of people might be delighted to add an hour or two to their flight if they can fly for half the money.”
That said — big claims and big dreams can trigger skepticism in others. “In the very beginning, it was extremely difficult to convince partners, clients, anybody, investors that we’re not delusional. Today it feels like everybody’s on board and this is where the industry should go. The industry is beginning to notice that there is really a tectonic shift here,” Bar-Yohay told Business Insider.
All of that background brings us to this month’s news. A production version of Alice has been finalized. Eviation is approaching the runway! Its first flight is planned for later this year, and the goal remains to deliver the first customer planes to Cape Air in 2022 — next year.
“Alice is a beautiful aircraft and represents the future of flying, plain and simple,” said Eviation Executive Chairman Roei Ganzarski. “Add in zero emissions, less noise, and significantly lower operating costs, and communities will be connected like never before starting sooner than you think.”
Though, apparently, Cape Air also needs some time with the plane itself and use in commercial service is not expected until 2024. Whenever it is, though, I have to say that I’d like to be on that flight.
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