All-Electric Passenger Plane ‘Electrified the Skies’ During Inaugural 8-Minute Flight: Company

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An all-electric airplane developed by Eviation Aircraft achieved a major milestone in electric aviation as it flew for 8 minutes at an altitude of 3,500 feet, the company announced.

The flight took off on Tuesday at 7:10 a.m. from the Grant County International Airport in Washington. The zero-emission aircraft, named Alice, cuts down on noise significantly and is only a fraction of the cost to operate per flight hour compared to high-end turboprop planes or light jets, the company claimed in a Sept. 27 press release (pdf).

“Today we embark on the next era of aviation—we have successfully electrified the skies with the unforgettable first flight of Alice,” said Eviation CEO Gregory Davis. “People now know what affordable, clean, and sustainable aviation looks and sounds like for the first time in a fixed-wing, all-electric aircraft. This ground-breaking milestone will lead innovation in sustainable air travel, and shape both passenger and cargo travel in the future.”

Alice is targeted at commuter and cargo markets and is expected to operate flights with a distance ranging from 150 to 250 miles. The aircraft has a maximum operating speed of 260 knots (299 mph), with the passenger version able to carry a maximum useful load of 2,500 pounds, while the eCargo version has a capacity of 2,600 pounds.

U.S.-based regional airlines Global Crossing Airlines and Cape Air have already placed orders for 50 and 75 Alice aircraft, respectively. DHL Express has ordered 12 eCargo versions of the plane, aiming to set up the first electric express network.

In an interview with The Seattle Times, Davis pointed out that the plane tested on Tuesday was only a prototype. The CEO is expecting a development time of three more years before test flights kick off, and an additional two years for more tests and certification. This would bring Alice’s entry into service sometime around 2027.

Challenges Ahead

Replacing fossil-fuel aircraft with electric alternatives will be a difficult task. Though electric planes are cheaper when it comes to engine maintenance and fuel costs, such advantages are outweighed when considering the high cost involved in buying the plane and then replacing the batteries.

The range of these vehicles is also a cause of concern. An analysis of a 19-seater electric aircraft manufactured by Swedish startup Heart Aerospace found that the plane only had a maximum cruise range of roughly 160 miles, far less than the 250 miles claimed by the Swedish company.

In case an aircraft cannot land at an airport right away, it needs to be able to circle the runway for 30 minutes. And in case of emergencies, it must also be able to reach an alternative airport 60 miles away.

Taking these factors into account, researchers estimate the actual usable range of the Heart Aerospace 19-seater plane at just 30 miles, according to MIT Technology Review.

Lithium, a crucial mineral required to manufacture batteries, is another big challenge facing the electric aircraft industry. The demand for Lithium in 2020 was about 320,000 tons.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates demand could multiply by up to 40 times by 2040. The IEA has also warned that there could be lithium shortages as early as 2025.

Naveen Athrappully

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Naveen Athrappully is a news reporter covering business and world events at The Epoch Times.



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