Alice, the first all-electric airliner, prepares to fly

By Jennifer Korn, CNN Business

The world’s first all-electric passenger plane is about to take off.

The Alice, an aircraft developed by the Israeli company Eviation, underwent engine tests last week at Arlington Municipal Airport, north of Seattle. According to Eviation CEO Omer Bar-Yohay, the Alice is just weeks away from its maiden flight.

With battery technology similar to that of an electric car or mobile phone and 30 minutes of charging, the nine-passenger Alice will be able to fly for one hour, and approximately 440 nautical miles. The aircraft has a maximum cruising speed of 250 knots, or 287 miles per hour. For reference, a Boeing 737 has a maximum cruise speed of 588 miles per hour. The company, which focuses exclusively on electric air travel, hopes electric planes that can carry 20 to 40 passengers will be a reality within seven to 10 years.

A prototype of the plane, which debuted in 2019, has been undergoing low-speed taxiing tests since December and will attempt a high-speed taxi test in the coming weeks. During these tests, the aircraft is sent down the runway at different speeds to test its own power and allow ground crews to monitor systems such as steering, braking and anti-skid. Although the company initially aimed for the Alice to take flight before 2022, poor weather conditions in the Pacific Northwest at the end of the year hampered testing.

Eviation has developed three versions of the prototype: a “commuter” variant, an executive version and a specialized for freight. The shuttle configuration in testing holds nine passengers and two pilots, along with 850 pounds of cargo. The executive design has six passenger seats for a more spacious flight, and the cargo plane contains 450 cubic feet of volume.

All of this is possible while reducing the maintenance and operating costs of commercial jets by up to 70%, according to the company.

The electric aviation space is already increasingly crowded with startups and established aviation companies. NASA gave $253 million in September 2021 to GE Aviation and magniX to bring the technology to U.S. fleets by 2035. Boeing is investing $450 million in Wisk Aero, a company building an all-electric, self-driving passenger plane , and Airbus is working on its own electric aviation efforts since 2010.

According to industry experts, the biggest hurdle for electric aviation to become the norm in passenger jets is the battery.

“The stumbling block is battery technology, just like with cars, but more so in airplanes. Indeed, with airplanes, the concern is weight,” said Ross Aimer, CEO of Aero Consulting Experts: “As soon as we have better battery technology, which I think will happen in two or three years, that’s when all these electric planes will come.”

Twelve The Alices are ordered by the international shipping company DHL, whose delivery is scheduled for 2024. These planes, out of DHL Express’ global fleet of over 280 aircraft, are intended to be used as cargo carriers for shorter routes. “Our aspiration is to make a substantial contribution to reducing our carbon footprint, and these advancements in fleet and technology will go a long way towards achieving further carbon reductions,” said Mike Parra, CEO of DHL Express America, in an interview with CNN Business. .

Eviation announced purchases of its proposed fleet from DHL and commuter airline CapeAir and says several more will be announced once Alice’s first flight is completed. CapeAir’s proposed Alice fleet is expected to enter service in 2023 on routes between Boston, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket and Hyannis.

While we seem to be getting closer to battery-powered air travel for some functions, it’s not all ready to go. Transoceanic flights and jumbo jets are still years beyond current science, to begin with. But the most pressing concern for electric aviation is regulation. The FAA has yet to offer clear guidelines or a regulatory framework for electric aircraft, which fall under the advanced air mobility category, although Eviation says it is actively working with the FAA to obtain certification for the production by 2024. “Some certifications may require the FAA to issue special conditions or additional airworthiness criteria, depending on the type of project. Determining the qualifications of these aircraft is an ongoing process,” according to a spokesperson. from the FAA.

Proponents of electric aviation predict that Alice and electric planes like her will become as common as any other form of transportation. “It really embeds aviation into the fabric of transportation, of our commuter lives. It does this while being sustainable and being economically viable,” Bar-Yohay said. “Once we start seeing planes like this, the whole way we look at where we live, how we get around, how we go on vacation, is going to change. It will be a high-speed trackless train.

But electric planes big enough to compete with large passenger jets may still be a long way off.

“The first step would be to try them in a commuter market or a charter market,” Aimer said. “Then eventually, if it works well, you’re going to have passenger jets. For that, we need Boeing or Airbus to come out with a real electric plane. I will see that in about 10 years.

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