Exclusive interview: Eviation’s co-founder and CEO Omer Bar-Yohay
In 2017, electric aircraft start-up Eviation displayed a technology demonstrator at the Paris Air Show. In 2019, it returned with an airworthy prototype all-electric aircraft and an announcement of first orders from regional U.S airline Cape Air.
Eviation’s aircraft Alice can carry up to nine passengers at a cruise speed of 240 knots, up to 650 miles.
CEO and co-founder, Omer Bar-Yohay spoke to Revolution. Aero shortly afer the announcement.
CJI: Why is Alice fully electric?
OBY: There is a market for cheaper aircraft. And with a hybrid you carry the disadvantages of both systems — the weight of the battery and the cooling drag from the APU or another generation system. The best way to get low direct-operating costs is to stay all-electric. One system to keep it simple.
CJI: What about the competition?
OBY: I think everybody picked up on this. Today, we’re seeing mostly technology demonstrators and early-to-move developers on this size of aircraft. And I think we’re going to see the likes of Airbus and Boeing building the same thing, if they care about this size category.
If you are operating a Boeing 737 or an Airbus A320 today, sometimes your passengers’ cab rides to the airport are more expensive than your flight. That’s especially so with the low-cost carriers. So, we are beginning to get this feeling that some of the more-innovative large carriers are looking at operating from the smaller airfields and expanding the hub-and-spoke approach to more hubs and more spokes.
And that’s our next go-to market. If a United Airlines, JetBlue or EasyJet in Europe would look at short-range electric aircraft and understand the way their introduction could disrupt their business model in the long run, they will want to incorporate this. It’s worth hundreds of aircraft and this is extremely significant for us.
CJI: Why is your aircraft named Alice?
OBY: It’s Alice after Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. There are many references from it that will make sense. It was a very late night of work at the workshop and one of the guys suggested that and then all the references came out!
CJI: What kind of flight training does Alice require?
OBY: A pilot will need some conversion or training after gaining a commercial pilot’s license. It’s not different to what you would do with any other turboprop of the same size. We expect to certify for single-pilot operation, making the plane easy to fly and reducing crew workload. If pilots are used to Garmin or other systems, they will need adjustment.
CJI: Where are you seeing most interest in Alice?
OBY: The U.S., because 70 per cent of general aviation happens there. We are getting some amount of interest from regional operators who are now struggling with very low margins.
There is also a lot of interest from freight operators as well. I was surprised to see the numbers who came forward and asked for hundreds of our aircraft.
CJI: How long does it take to reach full charge?
OBY: You always have a 30- or 45-minute reserve, so it is never fully discharged. The maximum legal charge for the plane is 650 miles plus the 45-minute reserve. This should usually take about one hour 10 minutes to recharge. And that translates to an approximate two-and-a-half-hour flight time.
CJI: How will you tackle the lack of charging infrastructure?
OBY: We are very clear on where we stand with this. The solution in the long and the short run is not to have a lot of charging stations installed in parking spots.
I think the marginal market here is the construction of charging trucks — something that will drive up to the plane wherever it is parked and be able to charge it for the maximum amount of time. With a fixed location, you have to pay more for that specific location because it has a charging spot.
If you have two or three planes operating out of one airport. You probably don’t need more than one charger. But if you have ten of them then there is a ratio of how many chargers it makes sense. And that of course is always the part of the negotiations with the operator wherever they want to operate.
No one else is doing this out there, but we don’t see it as a core competency for us. It does offer an interesting second-life option for the batteries of the plane.
CJI: What about autonomous flight?
OBY: So, this is not only the first all-electric commuter plane, but also the first Part 23 aircraft that is all fly-by-wire. But the reason we didn’t go the extra mile and put in either communications or the computational power to make it fully autonomous is the regulatory environment and the social acceptance. Are we ready to look to the left and see no one there?
The goal right now is to build a plane as a pilot-flown aircraft and get it to market.
We know the rules right now. We are poised for autonomy, poised to go remotely operated. But there is no framework for this, and we want to be in the market.
CJI: Do you have any plans for eVTOL?
OBY: I think the market for VTOLs is almost saturated with a lot of companies, a lot of ideas and a lot of money. We need to see some regulatory changes before you can really introduce a viable business around them.
I also think that our unique capabilities are more focussed on the bigger, the fixed-wing and very efficient longer-range aircraft.
So bigger aircraft is probably what is next for Eviation. Eviation is likely to introduce its cargo variant of Alice later this year or early next year. The current model can hold 2,400 pounds of cargo.