Ampaire, the Hawthrone, California aviation tech company, will begin testing the first commercial electric aircraft later this year on commercial routes in Hawaii.
Electric Hybrid Aircraft to Start Flight Tests
Earlier this week the company also revealed it will begin taking orders for the Electric EEL at the upcoming EAA AirVenture airshow in Wisconsin. The Electric EEL will enter flight trials with Mokulele Airlines in a partnership with Elemental Excelerator, a Hawaii-based startup accelerator. Ampaire hopes the Electric EEL will receive certification by the Federal Aviation Authority in 2021.
Ampaire is among a group of startups that are aiming to tackle another area of global warming. Aviation is responsible for 12% of all the emissions in the U.S. In 2017 worldwide, flights produced 859 million tonnes of CO2.
Electric EEL Aims to Fight CO2 Emissions, Fuel Costs
The Electric EEL aims to address the environmental impact of CO2 and other emissions as well as reduce the high operating costs associated with commercial aviation. As it stands, fuel can account for 30% to 40% of the costs of operating an aircraft. The Ampaire Electric EEL is a twin-engine Cessna 337 Skymaster modified to fly with one conventional combustion engine and one electric motor. The electric motor is powered by batteries.
“The most practical way to achieve an all-electric future is to jump-start the market with a partially-electric present,” said Ampire Chief Executive Kevin Noertker in a press release earlier this week. “We’re pursuing a pragmatic, step-by-step approach, a scalable plan to quickly commercialize and expand the electric airplane market. This approach recognizes that other development programs for clean-sheet all-electric aircraft will consume hundreds of millions of dollars in R&D and potentially require a decade or more to certify.”
Hybrid is the Quickest Way to Make an Impact
According to the executive, developing an all-electric aircraft from the ground up will be complicated by the rapid evolution of electric battery and powertrain technology and by a lack of experience on the part of regulators when it comes to electric aircraft. “In contrast, Ampaire is currently demonstrating the ability to cut fuel consumption by 50 percent and reduce emissions accordingly. The development cost of modifying an existing aircraft is relatively low and manageable versus a clean-sheet design,” he said.
The executive said the Cessna 337 modification is the first step in the evolution of electric commercial aircraft and that the next iteration may be a hybrid or a fully electric retrofit of nine to 19 passenger commuter/cargo aircraft.
Electric Aircraft to be a Huge Market
As the electric batteries and powertrain technology matures, he said Ampaire will shift its focus to clean sheet designs. The executive said by then the company will have strong cash flow from its retrofit programs and engineering and certification expertise that will be necessary to convince investors and regulators of an electric aircraft future. Noertker noted that UBS, the Wall Street firm, forecast the electric aircraft market will be huge at $200 billion in the future.