“We don’t have a choice, right? I love aircraft, I love flying, I like being able to go and see my family and I think it’s important that we continue to travel. But we need to do it in a way that doesn’t kill the planet. We just don’t have a choice.”
Gregory Davis, President and Interim CEO of Eviation, is quite clear on the role that his company, and its handsome electric planes, will have in helping the world move to sustainable flight.
We’re speaking to Davis at the Farnborough International Air Show on the hottest day ever recorded in the UK. The halls are filled with companies demonstrating outlandish electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft.
Eviation, on the other hand, is offering a slightly more conventional but no less compelling electric conventional take-off and landing (eCTOL) plane — the Alice.
Through the Looking Glass
“The name goes back to Alice in Wonderland,” explains Davis, “the idea of pushing through boundaries and understanding — looking at things in a different way and doing something new.
The Alice is Eviation’s vision of doing things differently. Based in Arlington, WA, the company thinks that the plane is in the “sweet spot” for electric aviation.
“We’ve identified three segments where the aircraft will operate,” Davis tells us.
“There’s the commuter segment, and we’ve designed the aircraft with a nine-passenger commuter interior for that segment. We’ve also identified a cargo application that we’re calling e-cargo for the aircraft. And there’s interest in it from an executive standpoint as well.”
That interest isn’t merely passing, either. Last year, DHL Express ordered 12 Alice cargo planes to operate around Europe starting in 2024. In April, Massachusetts-based Cape Air, one of the largest commuter airlines in the US, said that it will purchase 75 Alice planes to help make more than 400 flights to nearly 40 cities in the Northeast, Midwest, Montana and the Caribbean.
“If you run the numbers and you do the math, the nine-passenger commuter category is our first target for where this aircraft is going to be used,” says Davis.
“Nine-passenger aircraft typically operate in applications of less than 500 nautical miles. In fact, about half the world’s air travel is less than 500 nautical miles, if you look at where a nine-passenger aeroplane is used, it’s typically a one-and-a-half to two-hour flight. Those are ranges that we can achieve with today’s battery technology. So, by the time the aircraft goes into service, the batteries are going to be able to support the application for those types of commuter routes.”
While many aviation companies view batteries as unsuitable for use in aircraft, Davis thinks that batteries will form a crucial pillar in powering tomorrow’s aircraft.
“In terms of electric versus hydrogen versus sustainable aviation fuel, — sustainable, environmentally sound aviation is going to require a mix of all of those technologies,” he explains.
“Going back to the sweet spot for a second, when you look at where battery technology peaks, it converges nicely with Part 23.”
The Federal Aviation Authority’s Part 23 certification rules cover aeroplanes weighing less than 19,000 pounds (around 8,600 kg) and with 19 or fewer passengers,
“Nine passengers is this the maximum number that you can operate with a single pilot under Part 135 operations in the United States,” continues Davis.
“So, you can do single pilot operations, which is good from an economic standpoint with less operating costs. And so, we’re penetrating into that sector.”
Reducing Cost and Complexity
“What makes our aircraft different from some other electric aircraft around here is that we’re very purposefully an eCTOL,” says Davis.
As a result of the Alice’s fixed-wing, conventional take-off and landing design, Eviation should be able to take advantage of existing infrastructure — rather than having to work with cities, regional authorities, and partner organisations to create it from scratch.
“We don’t need to redefine, or reinvent how airspace works,” continues Davis.
“So, 80% of our aeroplane is just an aeroplane, conventional take-off and landing. You can operate from airports using air space. It’s, it’s a plane. And so that’s one of the reasons why we’re aiming to be first to market with this type of aircraft.”
As a result of that reduced complexity, Davis says that travel costs should (in theory, at least) be significantly cheaper on an Alice than with a jet plane.
“By eliminating fuel, you’re eliminating roughly half the operating cost of the aircraft. That’s meaningful. We want aviation to be fun, we want people to want to fly. And we want to be able to do that without worrying about killing our planet.
“I think it’s important to realize that this is great in the fact that you can pop over to Amsterdam, and go to the museum and see a concert, whatever you want to do. What I expect to see in 15 years is people will be flying to Farnborough in their Alice, whether it’s from Southampton or maybe south of Heathrow or wherever.”
While Davis thinks Alice is more than capable of rewriting the rulebook on short-haul, low-capacity flying, he is not convinced that other forms of flight are quite ready for emission-free flight.
“We will eventually see completely emissions-free aviation, at least as far as technology can stretch, but that probably will not be during our lifetime. However, we will see it evolve amazingly, during our lifetime,” Davis says.
“The roadmap to reducing or eliminating emissions has to be done in chunks. What we’re looking at right now is the real zero, right? So, with Alice, nothing, there is no tailpipe for anything to come out. There are zero emissions for the aircraft. Any emissions that it’s tied to will be because of its manufacturing, or because of the source of energy that’s used to produce the electrical power.
“In terms of hydrogen and sustainable aviation fuel, It’s going to be a long time before we can even conceive of having an aircraft that crosses the Atlantic Ocean without some kind of high-density fuel.
“So sustainable aviation fuel is going to be needed for the long-haul flights. Hydrogen is very exciting; you can burn it or react it. So, you can technically make a hydrogen hybrid. And then hybrid technology could be a mix of any of those other applications, batteries, sustainable aviation fuel, hydrogen, and something else that we haven’t thought of yet.”
But, of course, that shouldn’t deter anyone from trying to make sustainable, emission-free flying feasible.
“I’ve got three young children and, when they’re older, they’re going to be flying on electric planes,” says Davis.
“And it’s not going to be a thing. They will be flying on a plane which happens to be electric — that’s where we’re headed.”
Top image: Eviation