The Alice draws from an extensive base of innovation in the fields of airframe design, battery technology and advanced lightweight materials. (Photo: Courtesy Eviation Aircraft)
By Benyamin Cohen
One of the most expensive parts of flying is the cost of gas. Not to mention, the harsh environmental impact those emissions cause. An Israeli startup called Eviation Aircraft hopes to solve both the issues. They unveiled the world’s first all-electric passenger airplane this week at the Paris Air Show.
The lightweight plane – playfully dubbed Alice – will be able to fly about 600 miles between charges. So it will focus on regional transportation, like flights from New York to Boston or London to Zurich. It seats nine passengers and two crew members. A typical flight should cost a customer about $200.
“The fact that we’re building an electric plane from scratch instead of just refitting an existing plane with a battery means that we can design our aircraft to be more aerodynamically effective and efficient than current planes,” said Eviation co-founder Omer Bar Yohay. He predicts that per seat, per mile, the cost would be equivalent to that of a taxi or train.
The demand for electrically powered aircraft is projected to reach hundreds of planes per year within the next decade. The transition from gas to electric propulsion is expected to save millions of dollars in fuel and maintenance costs. Not to mention, the environmental benefits include significant reduction of air pollutionand noise levels. (When the Toyota Prius first debuted, people actually complained that they couldn’t hear the car running.)
Yosef Abramowitz, an energy industry expert in Israel, is excited about the new possibilities. “In modern life, it is important to fight climate change and now we have a path to do so in aviation,” he told From The Grapevine. “This will help save the planet and money, and maintain’s Israel qualitative contributions to solving global challenges.” Abramowitz, a tireless advocate for solar power, added: “The batteries will hopefully be charged with solar energy as well.”
Bar Yohay, who has a physics degree from Hebrew University in Jerusalem, launched Eviation Aircraft in 2015. The startup was quickly named one of the world’s most innovative companies by Fast Company magazine. But they’re not the only firm working on electric planes. Israel Aerospace Industry (IAI), headquartered near Tel Aviv, announced last year it has started working on them as well.
“The aviation world is about to enter a new era of electric propulsion,” IAI’s Moshe Medina said in 2018. “Electric airplanes are greener, quieter, reliable and more economical. We are nearing the completion of the characterization and conceptual design phase and will focus on the areas in which we see the strongest business potential.”
To help further save fuel costs, IAI has also invented a “taxibot” that tows planes from the passenger gate to the runway, so the planes needn’t run their engines.
After debuting at the Paris Air Show, the Alice will travel to the U.S. for a series of flight tests in the Arizona desert. Eviation hopes approval from the FAA will come soon after that. They expect the first commercial flights to take off in 2022. The company has already signed an agreement with U.S. regional carrier Cape Air which flies to 34 cities across America and the Caribbean.
“I think for the first time in a very, very long time, we can look at aviation again and talk about the next revolution,” Bar Yohay said. “You can start talking about a new age of aviation.”