Eight minutes. That’s how long it took Eviation Aircraft to create aviation history earlier this year with the maiden flight of Alice, the first-ever fully electric commuter plane, showing that a new era of sustainable aviation has arrived.
“It was very exciting getting to see the aircraft fly. You know, you get to do something like this only a few times in your lifetime – where you actually go and make history,” Gregory Davis, Eviation Aircraft’s President and CEO, said. “We have not seen the propulsion technology change in the aircraft since we went from the piston engine to the turbine engine. It was the 1950s that was the last time you saw an entirely new technology like this come together,”
Meeting the industry’s needs
The company is offering three versions of the aircraft targeted at the regional market: commuter, executive and cargo. The later has caught the eye of numerous companies, including global logistics and international shipping giant DHL, which has ordered twelve of the e-cargo versions to electrify its global aviation network.
Geoff Kehr, Senior Vice President Global Air Fleet Management at DHL Express, is passionate about improving the carbon footprint of aviation. “With our order, we’re investing towards our overall goal of net-zero emissions logistics. Alice’s range and capacity makes it a unique sustainable solution for our global aviation network, supporting our aspiration to make a substantial contribution in reducing our carbon footprint and ultimately, achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. We’re aiming to set up several Alice feeder networks, starting in the US.”
The aircraft’s popularity is reflected in how the company recently announced that the order book for the aircraft has now passed a total value of $2 billion, with almost 300 versions of the plane on order from companies such as Cape Air and GlobalX Airlines. “It’s definitely going to take off,” Davis added. “We’re going to create a new marketplace for people to be able to go and fly point to point, community to community.”
“The Alice will not just protect the planet but also create a more enjoyable flight experience for passengers. Considering the environmental and fuel cost challenges facing conventional airlines, incorporating the Alice into our customers’ fleets will give them a significant competitive advantage,” Eddie Jaisaree, Vice President, Commercial Sales at Eviation, said.
Transforming regional air travel
With a top speed of 480kmph, a range of up to 400 kilometres and a maximum payload of 1,100 kilograms, the nine-passenger aircraft’s all-electric propulsion system is a “revolutionary step forward in aviation,” according to the company. Not only does it provide the standard needed for efficient regional transportation, it enables the aerospace industry to embrace the electric age, taking full advantage of advancements in technology.
Davis explained how about 80% of the airplane is just a normal aircraft. The different is the replacement of the traditional propulsion unit for an electric system. This major change in design led the company to look at the technology they were bringing to the market place and optimise the airframe to maximise innovations and capabilities.
As half of the world’s air travel is less than 500 nautical miles, and 20-30% is less than 250 nautical miles, there’s a clear market for short range aviation. “If you look around in the US, for instance, there’s 2,000 airports that are currently in use but underutilised and there’s around 5,000 around the world, so there’s a massive potential unused airspace and airport infrastructure right now.”
“Eviation is all about expanding human possibilities by changing the way we think about air travel. Electric flight is a step change in how we will soon be travelling and shipping. It will change our society,” Davis said.
“Alice’s maiden flight confirmed our belief that the era of sustainable aviation is here. The electrification of every transport mode – including aviation – plays a crucial role in developing clean logistics operations,” Kehr added.
Making air travel truly sustainable
By 2050, the aviation sector may produce more than a quarter of the global CO2 emissions if jet engine use continues to increase, according to a study carried out by Deloitte. With the world seeking ways to become more sustainable, a number of proposals have been floated for the aviation industry, from carbon offsets to the use of sustainable aviation fuel to simply reducing the number of aircraft flying. The test flight of Alice showed that there is another way forward, capable of delivering sustainability without compromising the freedom to roam and use flight as a method of travel and transportation.
“We’re looking for way to connect communities using sustainable, affordable air travel,” Davis stated, highlighting how the company is focused on the three Cs – carbon, cost and convenience. “We’re going to eliminate emissions from aircraft and air travel using this type of technology. The cost of electricity is much cheaper than aviation fuel. And, the ability to introduce affordable air travel is how we’re going to connect communities again.”
Carbon emissions aren’t the only pollution that the aircraft helps to tackle. Being quieter than combustion engine aircraft, it can help to reduce noise pollution and allow for more flights into hubs where that is a factor. Beyond geography, this means the aircraft opens up nighttime application of airports that are limited by restrictions on disruption after certain hours. “Call it a curfew buster – breaking into airports that otherwise would be closed.”
The way forward
Eviation Aircraft developed the Alice from scratch, so, it has understandably been a long-time in the making. The first prototype, then called the Orca, was debuted in 2017 at Paris Air Show, with a full-size, functional prototype unveiled at the same event two years later. It would then take another three years before the aircraft would take to the skies for the first time. Now the maiden flight has been completed, the company is going to continue test flying the production aircraft and developing it through 2025, with the first planes delivered in 2027.
“We’re doing this because we want to be able to continue to travel. To do this, we need to make sure that aviation is sustainable. That moment when Alice flew, we realised that we’ve succeeded in our missions. This very critical step is just a wonderful experience,” Davis said.
This aircraft is just the starting point for Eviation Aircraft though. Even though Alice only conducted its maiden flight in September and won’t be delivered to customers until 2027, Davis is thinking about the future. “We are obviously working now to make the airplane work but we’re excited about what we’ll be able to do as that technology continues to evolve and we can bring better energy density onto the aircraft.”