Despite all the challenges, 2020 has proved to be a landmark year for electric aviation. Over the past three years, and especially in 2020, electric planes have set new flight range records, mastered short commercial flight routes, won the championship on a par with American military aircraft and attracted attention of major airlines.
In June, European regulators granted Velis Electro the world’s first electrical “type certification”, recognizing the entire aircraft structure as safe and ready for mass production. The Slovenian company Pipistrel, which is developing this electric aircraft, has, over the past few years, together with innovative partners, on the border of the pioneer in creating a breakthrough in the field of commercial aviation.
The company’s first electric aircraft, the Alpha Electro, was first certified as airworthy by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 2018. The Alpha Electro is a two-seater electric simulator that meets the needs of flight schools. It has a short take-off distance, powerful 1000+ RPM lift capability and endurance per hour plus a 30 minute headroom. The Alpha Electro is optimized for driving mode, where up to 13% of energy is recovered with each set, increasing the range of operations while allowing landings on short fields. The electric plane is powered by a 21 kWh battery – roughly a fifth of what you’d find in a Tesla Model S.
Technologies that were developed in-house specifically for this aircraft have reduced the cost of ab-initio pilot training by as much as 70%, making flying more affordable than ever before. The ability to train at smaller aerodromes near cities with zero CO2 emissions and minimal noise levels is also game changing! Considering the rising cost of fuel, this aircraft is making a significant difference in flight training.
The company’s website even offered the opportunity to purchase a plane for $ 140,000 and fly on its own electric plane.
Testing of Alpha Electro electric plane
In 2018, Pipistrel tested an Alpha Electro electric plane commissioned by the Norwegian airport operator Avinor as part of a plan to convert all local passenger air travel to electric aircraft by 2040. In 2019, there was an emergency landing during a demonstration flight, so the plan was postponed for an unknown period, but given that Norway is the leader in the number of electric vehicles sold, and domestic flights are among the busiest in Europe, it is highly likely that it will be implemented.
It is worth noting here that not only Pipistrel experienced difficulties at the beginning of their journey. In January 2020, Eviation’s all-electric prototype flashed during ground tests at an Arizona airport, likely due to overheating of the batteries (the company claims it will enter service by 2022). Uber sold its aviation division Elevate to startup Joby as the financial outlook for electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) remains too far from profitable.
Pipistrel continued to research and improve their own developments and the subsequent victory of the company was Velis Electro, which we mentioned at the beginning. Velis Electro can be commercially operated and is fully approved for pilot training as well as other operations. Thanks to its quietness, Velis Electro can bring flight training much closer to urban areas without negatively impacting the quality of life of communities. With its certified engine type and fault-tolerant battery system, Velis Electro has demonstrated a level of safety equivalent to or better than conventional powered aircraft.
The company has not spared the development of new products for the air transportation industry. Taking into account the trend of last mile delivery, it also has Nuuva V20 in its electrolitakiv line – a light cargo plane – courier carrying cargo up to 20 kg. The first customers will be able to ship in 2021.
With EASA certification, growing interest in electric aircraft and the likely demand for aircraft in the cargo and education sector, Pipistrel and Green Motion announced a change in partnership in 2020 to develop a versatile, future-proof, green turnkey charging technology for electric aircraft. …
This new charging infrastructure will comply with the regulations of EASA, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency. Thus, the company provides the market not only with new generation aircraft, but also prepares a platform for the full functioning of the era of electric aircraft.
Significant advances in batteries, electric motors, and other equipment found in electric cars – as well as hundreds of millions of dollars in aeronautical purposes – have brought electric technology closer to commercial takeoff. By 2035, investment bank UBS estimates that the aviation industry will be 25% hybrid or fully electric.
What is the advantage of electric planes?
Half of all global flights are less than 500 miles. This is the best segment for electric aircraft. Fewer moving parts, less maintenance, and cheaper electricity means costs can be more than halved. For airlines, e-planes are making the new routes now fully accessible by cars and trains, thanks to lower fuel, maintenance and labor costs.
Investors are willingly betting on this sector. Since 2015, the top 10 electric aviation startups have raised more than $ 1.2 billion, most of them in the past year (led by Joby Aviation, which invested $ 590 million), PitchBook reports. Airlines are pouring money into the supply chain for electric traffic. Over the past three years, JetBlue Airways has invested $ 250 million in startups in the electric aviation industry, and in the space industry – Intel, Toyota Motor, Daimler and Geely Automobile in China.
The military is also returning to its roots as an early financier of Silicon Valley technology, with the Navy and Air Force providing funds, support, and testing for autonomous and electric cargo drones. Joby Aviation’s four-seater eVTOL recently received an airworthiness certificate from the Air Force to begin military flight missions (19 other companies are willing to do the same).
Electric drive solves another problem for aviation: carbon emissions. Aviation emits over 11.6% of the world’s CO2 emissions, and this figure could reach almost a quarter by mid-century. In the absence of alternative fuels, an increase in the number of air passengers that will double by 2035, electricity may offer the industry a better path for development.
Based on materials from Yahoo Finance, Our World in Data