Revolution.Aero Uplift: A novel plane called Alice (and the strategy behind it)
Sleek and slender, Eviation’s electric-powered Alice aircraft is a plane for the future that draws its name from the past. Called Alice, after the children’s classic Alice in Wonderland, there’s nothing fanciful about this nine-passenger, 440nm-range developmental aircraft.
Impressed by her prospects, multinational package delivery company Deutsche Post ordered 12 aircraft in August 2021 for use by DHL to transport cargo. Delivery is scheduled for 2024. The company was not the first on the order book. Previously, Cape Air had placed an order for its regional airline serving the Northeast US and the Caribbean region.
Eviation executive chairman Roei Ganzarski (who is also CEO of electric engine producer MagniX) explains the manufacturers’ timetable to Revolution.Aero. “Later this year, Eviation plans to fly the world’s first all-electric commuter aircraft, Alice, for the first time,” he told us. “Alice will be powered by two of magniX’s magni650 electric propulsion units [EPUs]. Actively working with the FAA, magniX anticipates motor certification in 2023, while Eviation anticipates achieving certification of Alice in 2024.”
The electric manufacturers’ strategy is to focus is on electrifying middle-mile aviation to revolutionise the way people and goods travel distances of 50-1,000 miles in range. The prizes, they believe, will be more sustainable travel and significantly cheaper and quieter flight. Eviation’s strategy is predicated on the fact that half of all US airline flights are less than 500 miles in range. But only 1.6% of all 50 – 500 mile-trips are made by air.
Enter, stage right, electric aircraft. Using electric aircraft for these flights can significantly cut carbon emissions, delivering a big reduction in the environmental impact of short and middle mile travel. Up to 4% of global greenhouse emissions are created by aircraft and growing every day, Ganzarski argues. With a clean and more efficient propulsion, electric aviation emits zero emissions. “A completely clean aviation system is the only way we can progress as a society,” he insists.
There’s a cost benefit too, according to the manufacturers. Eviation and magniX predict electric aircraft will deliver hourly operating cost reductions of between 40-80%. This will accrue from lower hourly operating costs from fuel savings, reduced maintenance costs and longer service life compared with conventionally powered aircraft. It’s a cocktail of savings that could slash the cost of airfares – making them more palatable to millions of travellers currently found on freeways throughout the world.
Noise is another key benefit claimed for Alice and her electric sisters. Tests have revealed up to a 100 times reduction in noise pollution from a magniX EPU-powered electric aircraft versus a conventional one, claims the company. “With decreased noise, electric aircraft powered by magniX EPU propulsion systems, such as Eviation’s Alice, can open up greater mobility across airports, including the more than 200 airports across the United States that are currently restricted due to noise regulations,” says Ganzarski.
Eviation believes consumers and the aviation industry will find these compelling arguments. Ganzarski goes so far as to predict a few hundred electric aircraft – some small, retrofitted models and others new designs – will be flying around North America by 2025. By 2030, 1,000 electric-powered aircraft will be whispering through US skies, he says.
Meanwhile, magniX electric motors are not confined to powering Eviation’s Alice. They also drive the Harbour Air eBeaver and an eCaravan (a retrofitted Cessna 208B Grand Caravan). Plus, the engine manufacturer has been selected by two other leading developers. Faradair, a UK-based company, is developing an 18-passeneger aircraft and Universal Hydrogen is working on a 40-passenger Dash-8 retrofit to a hydrogen-fuel cell-based electric aircraft.
But to realise the full promise of electric aviation, innovation in energy storage is needed – be it batteries or hydrogen fuel cells, acknowledges Eviation and magniX. In aviation, propulsion always leads aircraft development. First, the challenge of designing propulsion for commercial grade aircraft had to be solved and now new aircraft are being designed specifically around electric propulsion, says Ganzarski.
When they start flying more frequently, energy storage systems will follow suit. “Once electric cars started showing up, even with their initial limited range, the investment in battery technology increased dramatically,” he says. Electric engine producer magniX believes the same will happen with aviation batteries.
The sleek and slender Alice could be on the flightpath to proving them right.