The electric car industry proved that vehicle electrification could be viable on a mass scale. Today, manufacturers are building electric boats, motorcycles, buses, and other non-car products. However, there is one industry sector in which electrification hasn't yet taken off. That is the aviation industry. 

A few players are trying to make moves in this space, but one, in particular, is becoming increasingly notable. That manufacturer is Eviation— a Washington State-based startup aiming to be one of the first companies to produce electric planes for commercial use. Eviation says its electric planes due in 2027 will make air travel less costly and cleaner. 

The firm has made it the TIME100 Most Influential Companies 2023. So can this EV company become the Tesla of the aviation industry? We talked to Eviation CEO, Gregory Davis, to find out.

Eviation Alice: a New Era of Flight 

Alice - take off morning sky

In September 2022, Eviation's prototype of its electric plane called the Alice made its first flight. The Alice has a sleek T-tail design and dual 850 horsepower electric motors giving it a futuristic look. Seen soaring in the skies above rural Washington, the maiden flight was a momentous occasion for the company. 

The Alice is a nine-seater aircraft with a length of around 57 feet and a wingspan of 62 feet. These dimensions put it in the ballpark of a Cessna Citation Excel or a Piaggio P.180 Avanti. "I like to say that we found the sweet spot for electric aviation with this aircraft: we have a nine-passenger plane," Aviation CEO Gregory Davis told InsideEVs. "You can fly with a single pilot in North America, so it means that it is more cost-effective to operate than a ten-passenger plane where you need two pilots."

By not needing an extra pilot, the Eviation Alice will be less costly to fly from the get-go and help decrease delays. "There's also a global pilot shortage right now, so being able to operate the aircraft with one pilot is beneficial from that regard," Davis said. "There's also a second pilot's seat, so one application for the plane is that you can have your airline transfer pilot flying the aircraft in the captain's seat and then have a recently graduated commercial pilot sitting in the co-pilot's seat building hours, learning to fly the plane, and becoming your next captain."

Eviation Alice: The Tech Specs

Alice - at dawn

Keeping this plane flying in the air requires significant research and development— and that starts with the battery. Namely, the Alice stores a 900kWh battery pack in its underbelly. "In terms of the size of the battery, it is an 8,000-pound battery," says Davis. "That 8,000-pound battery is fairly similar to what a full fuel load on a plane that size might weigh," Davis told InsideEVs. "It actually works out well inside the existing rules for aircraft sizing." 

The 900kWh battery pack gives the Alice a range of around 250 nautical miles (with an additional 30 minutes for reserves), meaning it's geared strictly for short-distance travels. To enable quick charging between stops, the Alice supports 800V charging, which is necessary for quickly charging the plane for quick turnarounds. "We haven't actually published {our DC charging rate} yet, but what I can say is that you can look at the overall energy utilization from the aircraft, and we're designing it so that you can do an hour of flying time in a 30-minute charge," Davis told InsideEVs

Davis notes that Eviation had to balance between enabling rapid charge rates and enhancing battery longevity. "The design considerations are different [with plane batteries]. In your car, you want the batteries to last the entire life of the vehicle. In an aircraft, routine maintenance is part of operating plans," Davis said. "We need to have a good battery life, but it doesn't need to be a 20-year battery. What we're actually doing is designing our battery to be a 3,000-cycle or 3,000-hour battery, and they'll get replaced during routine maintenance. We make sure that you're also operating in the top 10% of battery utilization."

Interestingly, aircraft turbine engines need to be rebuilt around every 3,000 cycles, and after several rebuilds, they'll need to be replaced entirely. Simply put, regardless of powertrain, maintenance is just a charm of aircraft ownership. "Being that it is an airplane, it will actually follow a relatively conventional maintenance cycle; the rest of the airframe will be serviced as though it was a traditional aircraft with jet engines on it," Davis told InsideEVs. "One of the big differences though is that over time we expect to see the overhaul cycles for the motors get longer and longer as they prove themselves in the marketplace."

The Benefits Of Electric Propulsion

Alice - desert background

As with electric cars, electric planes offer an array of benefits. The most notable is the less expensive "fueling" costs. "For the aircraft, electricity that is derived from the grid is between 30 and 70% cheaper than aviation fuel, and that's in today's environment," Davis told InsideEVs. Besides the fuel cost savings, electric motors providing thrust will be less maintenance intensive than a turbine engine. "The electric motors are so much less costly to maintain than a traditional turbine engine," Davis said. 

But ditching the turbines comes with an unexpected benefit. Namely, the plane won't have to reach 30,000+ feet to achieve maximum efficiency. "We actually don't need to climb for efficiency in an electric airplane; it's the exact opposite of a turbine aircraft," Davis told InsideEVs. "For an electric plane, [the motors] are wholly efficient at sea level. You really just need to climb as high as you want for a comfortable flight. 15,000 feet is a really great target for a total service ceiling. We will have a pressurization on the aircraft, so at 15,000 feet, you'll still be able to fly comfortably as a passenger without needing an oxygen mask— that's very important for us."

The ability to fly lower also means that Alice won't have to spend more time climbing, which is a highly energy-intensive task. Along with cutting down carbon emissions, the Alice will also reduce noise pollution, an adversary of residential communities located near airports. "One of the advantages of an electric aircraft is that it's very quiet. It's incredibly quiet, especially compared to a turbine aircraft," Davis said. With the quieter flight, these planes might be allowed to fly into airports with curfews during off-hours, like John Wayne Airport (SNA) in Irvine, California. 

"The idea is that with an {electric} aircraft, you can access the airport infrastructure at 2:00 in the morning to do an overnight package delivery," Davis told InsideEVs. "That rapid point-to-point package delivery for the freight provider is {highly beneficial}. Being able to knock twelve hours off your delivery time is very valuable to freight companies." With these benefits, Gregory Davis says that many corporations are taking note of how much more economical short flights could be with electric powertrains. 

Eviation: The Future Of Flight?

Gallery: Eviation Alice

As an example of interest, delivery provider DHL recently ordered 12 electric planes from Eviation. "We're so proud to have {DHL} as a customer, really a partner, in terms of developing the aircraft. They're so well aligned with how forward we are with environmental sustainability," he said. Along with DHL, other airlines and airplane lessors have expressed interest. Eviation says its orders have accrued to $4 billion in potential sales, so the firm is trekking to bring its aircraft to fruition.  

Opting for a plane like the Alice for shorter trips will be more economical for airline providers. Moreover, Not using loud turbine engines will make air flying quieter for occupants and people below ground. With the switch to electrification, it was only a matter of time before the aviation industry would implement this technology. While its market launch is still several years away, Eviation wants to be a driving force in electrifying air travel. According to Davis, the Alice "is going to change the way that people fly and people receive the goods that they want to get."

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