Down To Earth talks to Gregory Davis, chief executive officer of Eviation Aircraft, to learn more about sustainable aviation
Alice plane requires very little maintenance, mainly regular battery replacements. Photo: Eviation Aircraft.
Eviation Aircraft, an electronic aircraft manufacturer based in Arlington, Washington, has recently received orders of valuation over $3 billion. The company’s prototype Eviation Alice took flight at Moses Lake Grant County International Airport on September 27, 2022, ascending to 3,500 feet and remaining in the air for eight minutes.
Currently, Eviation Aircraft is targeting a 2027 launch date and is working with the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on certification. Gregory Davis, president and chief executive of Eviation Aircraft, spoke to Down To Earth about the venture. Edited excerpts:
Seema Prasad: What inspired you to foray into the nascent field of electronic aviation? How did you estimate its potential a few years ago?
Gregory Davis: Electric aircraft has the power to transform communities environmentally and economically. These transformational opportunities drive us to explore electric aviation and excite us for the future of air travel.
When we initially looked at the marketplace for a nine-passenger commuter aircraft, we saw the potential to replace a few thousand airplanes with Alice.
As we’ve progressed, we’ve found there are whole new opportunities for positioning the aircraft in service in regional air mobility or point-to-point air travel. Today, a lot of airlines have transitioned away from the point-to-point networks that were in high demand three decades ago. With the reduced operating cost of electric aircraft and the ability to add short routes without causing additional environmental harm, we’re excited to see an emergence of a new regional air sector with electric aviation.
SP: Tell me about some of your trials and errors before you came up with Eviation Alice.
GD: Alice is the result of an iterative process that began in 2015 to create what we believe is the all-electric aircraft of the future. The first prototype was a drone named the Orca. This was the foundation for the Alice you see today.
We made some changes to the original design to optimise the aircraft based on various tests, lessons learned and customer feedback. The current model is the production configuration design of Alice and it is optimised for all-electric flight and operational use.
SP: What have companies like Airbus figured out to aim for bigger, hybrid aircraft with hydrogen and fuel cells? How realistic do you think these goals are, considering current limitations to manufacturing hydrogen itself?
GD: Sustainable aviation requires a mix of technologies to replace the existing combustion-based power. Electric, hydrogen, sustainable aviation fuel and hybrids will all serve different missions. These technologies are viable options for greening the aviation industry over the long term.
Short-haul flights (flights lasting from 30 minutes to 3 hours) are where we can make strides in zero-emission aviation in the near future with electric aviation.
SP: Do you think batteries are a better option than hydrogen or fuel cells for green aviation? What are the advantages of using two magni650 electric propulsion units developed by magniX (an electric motor manufacturer for electric aircraft) over other battery prototypes for electronic aircraft?
GD: Green aviation will require a mix of technologies to serve different markets. MagniX is the industry leader in electric propulsion technologies, having powered multiple firsts in electric aviation. The two-engine configuration of the aircraft gives us the power we need to achieve the aircraft’s performance targets.
SP: What is the lifespan of an electronic aircraft? Will it be easy to upgrade them compared to conventional aircraft with a lifespan of 20-30 years?
GD: We are designing a high-cycle aircraft for a 25-year economic life. The Alice plane requires very little maintenance, mainly regular battery replacements.
Our batteries are currently designed to have a life cycle of 3,000 hours, which can last two-three years depending on how often an operator flies Alice. As the battery nears the end of its life, we will replace these batteries with the latest battery technology.
SP: A study stated that the current battery energy density and weight severely restrict the range of battery electric flights and aircraft size. For that reason, do you ever see Eviation Alice increasing beyond nine seats and 440 miles over the next few years? If yes, how do you plan on upgrading aircraft design incrementally to accommodate more miles and people?
GD: Based on today’s battery technology, we’re targeting a range of 250 nautical miles Day Visual Flight Rules (a type of license that allows the plane to operate between sunrise and sunset).
What matters most is how the aircraft is going to be used. Most flights will be 150-250 nautical miles. We are focused on transforming short, regional flights through electric aviation. This represents a significant portion of flights around the world. You can expect us to explore new segments driven by either untapped demand or new demand created through new technologies.
Batteries in the 300, 400 and 500 watt-hour per kilogram energy density are inside Eviation’s roadmap for product evolution. We are confident in our entry into service range projections and our ability to evolve the product over time.
SP: How long will it take for Alice to be certified by FAA? What are your efforts toward it?
GD: We are aiming to bring Alice to market in the next five years. We expect to begin certification flight tests in 2025, with entry into service targeted for 2027.
We will continue to invest in our engineering and support capabilities as our development programme evolves and are currently working closely with the FAA on certification. We have progressed our relationship with the FAA by securing our Special Airworthiness Certificate for Alice’s first flight. Future flights and testing will be driven by FAA program requirements.
SP: As you have signed contracts worth two billion, what are some of your projects in the offing?
GD: The order book for Alice has now passed $3 billion, with over 300 aircraft on order. In addition to Aerus, global customers include DHL, Air New Zealand, Cape Air, GlobalX, EVIA AERO, Australia’s Northern Territory Air Services and others, are choosing Alice to electrify their fleets.
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