All-Electric Commuter Plane Will Fly This Year, Startup Says

By Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
July 1, 2021 Updated: July 2, 2021

By Dominic Gates
From The Seattle Times

The electric commuter plane startup Eviation said Thursday it has finalized the design for its Alice aircraft and is on track for its first flight this year.

In a hangar in Arlington, Wash., where the company is based, technicians have assembled the fuselage and tail of the first plane. The wings, supplied by GKN, have arrived at the facility but have yet to be attached.

“We’re actually building that airplane as we speak,” Eviation chairman Roei Ganzarski said. “And we’re about to fly it here later this year.”

The plane, carrying nine passengers and two crew, will be battery powered, with propellers turned by electric motors made by sister company MagniX of Everett, of which Ganzarski is CEO. It’s expected to have a range of about 500 miles.

The final design shows dramatic changes from a prototype touted at the 2019 Paris Air Show. The V-shaped tail on the earlier prototype is switched to a T-shaped tail. And the previous wingtip propellers are gone, replaced by short, upwardly bent wingtips.

The plane now has just two MagniX-driven propellers mounted on either side of the rear fuselage by the tail, instead of two on the wings and another at the back of the tail.

“We’ve been very busy over the last two years,” Ganzarski said, adding that working with potential customers led to a simplified design.

Progress after a major setback.

Eviation was founded in 2015 in Israel by Chief Executive Omer Bar-Yohay. Ganzarski, an Israeli-born former Boeing executive, said the company retains now only a small research and development unit in Israel while most of its roughly 90 employees are in Arlington, now the company headquarters.

Late last year, Eviation moved to some leased hangars at Arlington Municipal Airport, where it is assembling its first planes and plans to conduct ground and flight tests.

When Bar-Yohay showed off the nonflying prototype in Paris in 2019 he predicted a first flight later that year.

But the plane hadn’t flown yet when, in January 2020, a lithium-ion battery pack used for a ground test caught fire and destroyed the prototype, setting the operation back further.

The unveiling of the final design Thursday marks the program’s production recovery. Yet the company is not disclosing much information about market prospects.

Eviation two years ago publicly identified one customer: Cape Air, a commuter operator in the Northeast United States serving routes such as Boston to Martha’s Vineyard and New York to Nantucket.

However, Ganzarski declined to name any other customers or even to say if Cape Air remains a customer.

In Paris two years ago, Bar-Yohay mentioned a targeted list price for the plane of about $4 million. Ganzarski said that is not the list price now.

“At this stage we’re not publicly sharing the price,” he said.

Eviation’s partners include GKN Aerospace, which is doing full assembly of the wings and tail for the Alice, including all the electrical wiring in those parts.

Honeywell is supplying the cockpit instruments and screens, the flight control computer, the fly-by-wire flight control system, and the cabin air system.

Ganzarski declined to name the supplier of the lithium-ion battery cells, although he said Eviation’s in-house engineers will combine the battery cells into a battery pack designed for aviation safety.

Motor supplier MagniX is a company founded in Australia before establishing a U.S. presence in Redmond in 2018. It is developing a range of electric motors for airplanes in addition to the Alice. Its motors can be retrofitted to small prop planes, including the Cessna Caravan and the de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver seaplane.

It also plans to supply motors to L.A.-based Universal Hydrogen, which is working to develop hydrogen-powered airplanes.

MagniX consolidated its operations in Everett early this year and closed its Australian unit. It now has about 60 employees, Ganzarski said.

Both Eviation and MagniX are funded by the Singapore-based Clermont investment group, owned by New Zealand-born billionaire Richard Chandler.

©2021 The Seattle Times. Visit seattletimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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