Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Electric Planes Taking Flight

Rendering of Alice. (Eviation)

George Harvey

It has been over six years since Solar Impulse 2 completed its 16½ month circumnavigation of the Earth, in July of 2016. That plane was powered entirely by solar panels on its upper surfaces, with a battery system to keep the motors running at night. Nevertheless, the idea of an electric airplane still seems rather bizarre to many of us, especially when the plane is designed for commercial passenger flights.

The story of Alice, an airplane being introduced by a company in Washington state, shows how things are changing. It is a commercial passenger plane powered by two electric motors. It has come a long way in a relatively short time, though it be a while yet before it is ready for customers.

Alice is a product of Eviation. The company was founded in 2015 in Tel Aviv. By 2019, a prototype of Alice was put on display at the Paris Air Show. Eviation moved to Arlington, Washington in 2020, and is continuing development of the aircraft there.

Assembly of the first Alice production model began in 2021. Then, on September 27, 2022, Alice was flown in its first test flight at Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake, Washington.

The test flight was not intended to last long. The plane was in the air for only eight minutes. During that time, however, it was able to reach an altitude of 3,500 feet, and the test was considered a great success. The version of the plane flown in the test is a passenger aircraft that can carry nine people. It has a range of roughly 250 miles, which it can cover in about an hour. It is designed to carry a load of 2,500 pounds.

Airplanes must go through a long certification process before they can be delivered to market. Eviation will have to work through that process until at least 2025. After that, there will be a year or two of further testing. This means it will probably be 2027 before the first aircraft are delivered to customers.

Some people might think that this is a minor development. After all, the plane is only capable of short flights carrying few people, compared with the airplanes most of us might think of when someone mentions commercial passenger planes. But it turns out that there are reasons why companies might want to have exactly such an aircraft.

Several companies have already placed orders for Alice aircraft, showing a level of interest most of us might find astonishing. After announcing a successful test on September 27, only a bit more than five weeks passed before Eviation announced that the value of the order book for Alice had passed $2 billion. Yes, $2 billion.

Of course, the orders did not all come in during a period of five weeks. There were some regional airlines in the United States and Europe that had ordered airplanes before the test flight in September. One company, Cape Air, had ordered 75 planes. That was not the only order, just the largest.

It would appear that the electric airplane is idea whose time has come.

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