EBACE2022: Electric Aviation Is on the Horizon, But Hurdles Remain

24 May, 2022

Potential niches abound for electric aircraft, with locales as varied as Norway and Los Angeles, CA touted as likely initial markets. But no electric aircraft are as yet in service, and the first viable products are subject to a raft of technological challenges.

At the first-ever European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition ( EBACE) roundtable with journalists the topic was electric aviation.

“There is an overwhelming focus on sustainability here at EBACE,” said NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen said. The industry has vowed to be carbon-neutral by 2050, and “the key to that is electric propulsion.”

“We have to do this,” added Greg Davis, president of Eviation Aircraft. “We don’t have a choice.”

Eviation’s aircraft, dubbed Alice (think Alice in Wonderland, Davis said) has passed a 26-point ground test regime and is expected to fly for the first time this summer. It will be the world’s first all-electric commuter craft, Davis said, seating nine passengers.

“The direct operating cost of the aircraft will be much lower,” he said. “We’re going to be driven by the market.”

Citing the seemingly insurmountable problem of viable, durable batteries, Jean Botti, CEO and CTO of VoltAero, explained his hybrid approach. VoltAero’s Cassio electric-parallel hybrid aircraft will utilize their propulsion system’s electric motors for all-electric power during taxi, takeoff, primary flight, and landing. The hybrid feature (with an internal combustion engine) serves as a range extender, recharging the batteries while in flight.

A fuel-powered engine will provide the power needed for takeoff and landing, with electricity for cruise.

“We’re making the revolution by evolution,” he said. “I’m not going to promise you the moon. You have to lift the stone.” It can be done with batteries, but that will reduce the batteries’ life, and the economics become unacceptable.

“I would love to make an all-electric aircraft one day,” he said.

VoltAero is eyeing certification of its Cassio 330 with series production in 2024. The aircraft is to carry four passengers, with six- and nine-passenger variants already planned.

Murdo Morrison, of Flight Daily News, suggested that the race to certification and service entry is being driven by investors rather than the market, and that true commercial viability will be a gradual thing. “You need to have demand for it,” he said.

Charles Alcock, of Aviation International News, concurred, noting that when he talks to people outside of the aviation world, they know nothing about electric airplanes, and tend to be skeptical.

“We’re in a sort of gold rush situation,” he said. “Engagement with ordinary people is very important.”

But Alcock said too: “This is one of the most exciting periods we’ve ever been in.”

“You need the society buy-in,” agreed Lee Ann Shay of the Aviation Week Network. Local governments, airport managers, hotels and the overall traveling industry all have to be made to understand the implications and advantages of cheap, point-to-point, non-polluting flight.

Again and again, the discussion came back to batteries. “My life is all about batteries,” said Greg Davis of Eviation. His company is essentially building its own. “Batteries are temperamental and we need to evolve that into something that’s highly reliable.”