An all-electric mini-airliner that can go 621 miles on one charge and replace many of the turboprops and light jets in use now—flying almost as far and almost as fast but for a fraction of the running costs—could be in service within three years. But this isn’t another claim by another overoptimistic purveyor of electric dreams. It’s using current technology, and the first planes are being built right now. In fact, the process of gaining certification from aviation regulators for what would be the world’s first electric commuter plane has already started.
The pressurised Alice from Israeli company Eviation is a graceful-looking composite aircraft with one propeller at the rear and another at the end of each wing, placed to cut drag from wingtip vortices. Each is driven by a 260 kW electric motor, and they receive power from a 900 kWh lithium ion battery pack.
Alongside its 650 mile range, the pressurised $3 million-plus Alice can carry nine passengers and two crew, and cruise at 276 mph – up there with the speed of the turboprops that are widely used in the commuter role, if not anywhere near that of jets. But crucially, says Eviation chief executive Omer Bar-Yohay, “operating costs will be just 7 to 9 cents per seat per mile,” or about $200 an hour for the whole aircraft, against about $1,000 for turboprop rivals.
If you think propeller aircraft are a thing of the past, think again and look at the private aviation market, even if most people like to label the entire segment as private jets.
Last year, on-demand and jet card charter flight activity for turboprops increased 8% versus 4.9% for light jets.
Turboprops are often employed as less glamorous regional workhorses and can offer a more fuel efficient solution for airlines than regional jets, particularly on short sectors. Turboprops can also operate from shorter and more restricted runways than jet aircraft, and in some cases are the only solution for serving remote communities.
In November 2018, Bombardier agreed to sell its Dash 8 turboprop programme, including the in-production Q400 series, to Longview Aviation Capital Corp. The fact that one of the world’s two major long-term commercial turboprop manufacturers had chosen to divest this segment of its business may have suggested to some that the outlook for future turboprop demand looked bleak.
However, far from entering a period of decline, the capacity operated by turboprops is continuing to grow.
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