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29/09/2021

5 Things you wanted to know about electric aircraft

Using your queries, we have endeavoured to answer 5 top questions you had about electric aircraft.

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In our recent webinar, we teamed up with Neil Cloughley of Faradair and Roei Ganzarski of MagniX to discuss the future of electrically powered aviation and how appraisers can value such emerging technologies.

1. How can regional airports implement the best charging structures?

Electric aircraft with better short field performance present a unique growth opportunity for smaller airports and local airfields, as well as a cost-saving opportunity for operators looking to avoid high slot prices. As with all new technology, infrastructure is likely to prove an early challenge. In response to this, players in the electric aviation sector are working on new battery tech that sidesteps some of these common issues. Roei Ganzarski says that MagniX are “Developing mobile battery charging capabilities that can drive to an airport that does not have fixed systems. They can charge an aircraft, and then drive off-site to get charged themselves. Ideally from a renewable energy source”. Roei goes on to say that there are also many potentials for renewable micro grids at airports, potentially solar power based. Current charging options offer a 1-1 or 2-1 ratio of time versus charge depending on the equipment.

2. Are aircraft batteries different from car batteries?

Electric aircraft are using exactly the same battery cells as cars, meaning that production of these can be incorporated into the overall global infrastructure of battery production. The key differences come in how batteries are packed for installation in electric aircraft. Aircraft batteries will be more thermally managed than those in cars, and so impacts of low temperatures on range are expected to be greatly reduced.

In the case of the Faradair BEHA, the batteries will only be used initially for taxiing and reserve power capability as the primary power source will come from the Turbogenerator running Sustainable Aviation Fuel. As the battery technology and infrastructure matures, the BEHA will be able to migrate to full battery power source, or hydrogen or other fuel cell technology, however Faradair feels we may yet see a more suitable for aviation battery type appear within the next few years that offers greater power density than automotive battery technology which is generally produced with volume and cost as the primary drivers. Aircraft are obviously considerably more expensive than cars and so higher cost and more advanced batteries could be incorporated to give greater range and performance capability.

3. What will the likely limits on passengers and payload be for electric aircraft?

There is a clear awareness in the sector of the limitations of electric propulsion in aerospace on passengers and payload. There are currently several developing designs which promise capacity from 8-40 passengers. The Faradair BEHA is planned to utilise 18 seats assembled in 3 x 6 seat sections, meaning these can be easily removed to accommodate cargo. Neil Cloughley explains that this flexibility between cargo and passenger operations is one of the strongest features of the BEHA’s flexibility. Whilst the BEHA has all the advantages of electric motor propulsion in terms of efficiency, reliability and low operating cost, the power source of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (JetA). Having this combined with a new wing configuration that generates considerable lift within a very small footprint, offers operational advantages over standard ‘wing and tube’ designs.

Aircraft accommodating 18-40 passengers will of course be more efficient on a per-seat basis, and thus the industry is zeroing in on this area. Roei Ganzarski of MagniX believes that in the short to midterm, electric aircraft will likely be limited to 50 passengers, with hybrid fuels or blends of sustainable aviation fuel used beyond. Furthermore, future performance will only improve. As batteries get better, fuel cells get better, and the range and payload will increase.

4. Will electric propulsion have aircraft range and performance implications?

It is clear that electric propulsion will have positive impacts on overall performance, the most notable being a considerably shorter take-off and landing distances. It will also perform better in the climb, with high rates of climb possible. Range is more dependent on the energy source the aircraft uses. Roei Ganzarski explains that a retrofitted Cessna Caravan can achieve about 100nm. Meanwhile, purpose-built electric aircraft such as the Eviation Alice can achieve 440nm, and Hybrid electric aircraft such as the BEHA can go considerably further.

 

One of the key features of the BEHA is the power source. It is being designed around a type certified and approved aerospace technology, that can burn Sustainable Aviation Fuel extremely efficiently to create power for the E-motors.  This means the BEHA has range capability equal to or better than any asset in its class without any new infrastructure requirement at all. Once full Net-Zero power sources reach comparative levels, the BEHA operators will be offered the opportunity to switch power source and then carry on flying their asset as a full Net-Zero commercial aircraft asset.

5. In a sector dominated by start-ups, should we expect to see consolidation in the market?

In short, yes. Roei Ganzarski says that we should expect to see a considerable volume of electric aircraft businesses shutting down, merging, or consolidating over the coming 12-16 months. As such, it will be essential to look for an aerospace pedigree, knowledge and proven technologies when selecting companies to work with. A view absolutely agreed by Faradair, Neil Cloughley says that when the dust settles and the hype bubbles burst, there will be those left standing who know and understand this sector from proven experience and they will begin to create mutually beneficial collaborations and alliances to enable growth of a very exciting sector, where different assets will fly different missions and many will co-mingle and operate in unison.

 

He continues – “Our greatest pioneers and innovators have always been lean, nimble and visionary and this offers a great opportunity for larger, more established organisations to be part of a rapid growth curve for a fraction of the budget they would require to do it themselves. Expect therefore to see consolidation and expect to see a transformation of regional air transportation, not seen since the LCC’s changed the legacy airline landscape, so it is not ‘if’ sustainable aviation is coming, but when… and that time is now”.

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