DHL Express’ vision for a fleet of all-electric cargo jets took a big step toward reality Tuesday with Eviation Aircraft successfully completing the maiden flight of its zero-emission Alice commuter plane in Moses Lake, Washington.
Alice lifted off in the morning and flew for eight minutes, reaching an altitude of 3,500 feet, according to Israel-based Eviation Aircraft. The company’s U.S. headquarters is in Seattle.
DHL (DXE: DPW) last year ordered a dozen electric cargo jets from Eviation. Alice can be flown by a single pilot and carry up to 2,600 pounds. It will require 30 minutes or less to charge per flight hour. Although designed to cover about 400 miles in two hours, it will typically operate flights ranging from 150 to 250 miles, according to Eviation.
The express delivery company plans to use the battery-powered aircraft on feeder routes, charging it during loading and unloading to ensure quick turnaround times. DHL officials said Alice will be used in its middle-mile U.S. network, replacing some similar-size planes that currently connect large air hubs and regional markets.
“Alice’s range and capacity makes it a unique sustainable solution for our global aviation network, supporting our aspiration to make a substantial contribution in reducing our carbon footprint and, ultimately, achieving net-zero emissions by 2050,” said DHL CEO John Pearson in a statement congratulating Eviation on its achievement.
Alice is powered by two magni650 electric propulsion units from MagniX. It can accommodate two pilots.
Electric aircraft are much quieter and will be cheaper to operate per flight hour compared to light jets or high-end turboprops, according to Eviation. Jet fuel, the largest expense for airlines, has become very costly in the past year and accounts for about 2.5% of global carbon emissions.
Nonetheless, the heavy batteries required for electric aircraft limit their range and payload capacity.
Alice has a propeller mounted in the back by the tail and a huge 8,000 pound battery.
UPS (NYSE: UPS) in May 2021 said it would take delivery of 10 vertical-takeoff electric aircraft made by Beta Technologies, with an option to purchase up to 150 units. Beta’s aircraft are rated for 1,400-pound cargo capacity. UPS plans to use the aircraft in smaller communities currently served by small, fixed-wing aircraft. The aircraft are expected to have a range of up to 250 miles and a cruising speed of 170 mph. Beta is designing the planes to ultimately fly autonomously.
FedEx (NYSE: FDX) is also pursuing electrification for its delivery fleets, but it has not revealed what those plans are for aircraft.
Fixed-wing aircraft can carry larger payloads than vertical takeoff aircraft and don’t require new regulations.
Cape Air and Global Crossing Airlines, both U.S.-based regional airlines, have placed orders for 75 and 50 Alice nine-passenger aircraft, respectively.
“I think we’re going to have a very competitive marketplace with lots of different players, and we’re all going to have a slightly different approach,” Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun said this month at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce aerospace event in Washington.
In January, Boeing invested $450 million in Wisk, a developer of electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft that will initially carry four people. Wisk is developing the planes to fly autonomously.
Other competitors in the space include Wright Electric, which is developing a 100-passenger battery-powered plane; Heart Aerospace, backed by United Airlines (NASDAQ: UAL); Air Canada, which recently ordered 30 electric-hybrid passenger aircraft; and Airbus.
Eviation originally planned to conduct its first test flight last year. The Federal Aviation Administration must certify the aircraft, which are now not expected to enter service until 2027.
The company earlier this month named Gregory Davis as its new CEO. Davis was appointed president in May 2021 and became interim CEO in February. Before that, he served as vice president at Viking Air Ltd., which manufactures Twin Otter aircraft, and as an engineer at Marshall Aerospace and Defense Group.