Decarbonizing Aviation: All-Electric Passenger Plane Is on the Horizon

Decarbonizing Aviation: All-Electric Passenger Plane Is on the Horizon

Eviation makes strides toward an all-electric passenger plane…

The bad smell, the dirty air, the window-rattling noise—these will one day be problems of the past as all-electric planes take over the airways.

Granted, that day might be decades away, but companies like Eviation are making great strides in that direction. Their all-electric passenger plane, Alice, has already taken flight and continues to reach milestone after milestone.

Benefits of Electric Planes

We all know the benefits of electric cars, and it’s much the same for electric planes, but on a commercial scale. From an environmental perspective, it’s all about decarbonizing aviation.

According to Our World in Data, aviation accounts for around 2.5% of global CO₂ emissions but 3.5% when we take non-CO₂ impacts on climate into account.

The transition to zero-emission electric planes would turn the tide on these worrisome numbers.

While greatly reducing air pollution is a big enough benefit in itself, it is not the only one electric planes offer. They will also greatly reduce noise pollution.

Like electric cars, electric cars are relatively silent, which will make air travel more peaceful… in the air and on the ground.

Biggest Challenge Electric Planes Face

Electric air travel has existed, at least in concept, since the late 1800s. But it hasn’t taken off, mostly due to the weight of traditional lead-acid batteries.

The more power batteries hold, the heavier they are. The heavier the batteries, the less air-worthy they are. 

Hence, electric planes are caught in a Catch-22. They need more electric power to fly a reasonable distance, but they also need to be able to get off the ground!

However, since the development of lithium-ion batteries, air travel has not only become possible but inevitable. 

There is still a long way to go, but advancements in Li-ion batteries have already made electric air travel feasible. Alice is proof…

Eviation’s Alice: First All-Electric Passenger Plane

Eviation is an Israeli company touted to have the first electric zero-emission commercial passenger aircraft of its kind: Alice. The plane’s name was inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, presumably because it is entering a fantastical era in the aviation world.

Alice is a small 57-foot-long all-electric aircraft designed for passenger use. The slick design invokes a more traditional airplane look, while still showcasing its futuristic power source. 

The lithium-ion batteries, located in the belly of the plane, weigh around 8,000 lbs. Even with our latest battery advancements, weight and space are still the primary limiters when it comes to fly distance and carry weight. To compensate, the body of the plane is made of carbon-composite materials.  

Despite the battery weight, Alice is expected to handle short commutes with relative ease as a “puddle jumper” or “taxi” plane.

Hub & Spoke Bus vs. Point-to-Point Taxi

Currently, most commercial flights are based on a hub & spoke system. This system relies on hauling a larger number of passengers a longer distance, like a bus.

Eviation’s idea is for Alice to be more like a taxi that uses a point-to-point, on-demand system. Although you would think a taxi system would be more expensive, Eviation believes it can be the more affordable system of the two, despite the planes’ smaller capacities.

How Many Passengers Can Alice Carry?

Alice can carry up to 9 passengers and 2 pilots, plus luggage, up to 2,500 pounds. All with reasonable comfort and space. 

That doesn’t seem like a lot, but it is sufficient. Let’s do the math using the FAA’s standard of 190 pounds per adult passenger with carry-on luggage…

6 passengers and 2 pilots with carry-on bags add up to 1,584 lbs. That leaves 916 lbs of the max payload. Plenty of room for refreshments! Hopefully, some that are actually included in the price of a ticket!

How Far Can Alice Fly?

Eviation’s team hopes to reach a range of 440 nautical miles (506 miles), but that is more for record-setting purposes than practical purposes. They only expect to reach that distance without payloads and in ideal conditions.

Practically, Eviation’s goal is to connect communities that are a couple of hundred miles apart. For instance, connecting Los Angeles to Las Vegas and San Antonio to Houston.

Milestones Achieved

On September 27, 2022, Alice completed the first fully-electric flight. For this test flight, Alice took off from an airport in central Washinton, ascended to 3,500 feet and landed again. Her total flight time was 8 minutes, and was considered a resounding success.

Just a few days prior, Alice completed the high speed taxi rotation test with ease. As Eviation phrased in on social media, they “nailed it.”

On October 5, 2023, Alice’s test pilot, Steve Crane, was awarded the prestigious Iven C. Kincheloe Award for his role in the successful first flight of Eviation’s Alice.

How Soon Can We Fly Electric?

Despite the seemingly advanced technological development, commercial electric airplanes are still years away from being viable options at the airport.

There are many other considerations beyond the aircraft itself – flight routes, recharge times, variations due to temperature and weather conditions, and many more. 

However, as the development and refinement of electric vehicles continue to replace and even surpass gas-powered vehicles, it seems only a matter of time before we’re taking to the clean, electric skies. 

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