‘Hundreds’ of Companies Race to Master Electric Planes
Around the world, electric aircraft evolution is on fast forward as countries try to meet their climate commitments to decarbonize transportation within their borders and also internationally under the Paris Agreement.
"Competition is fierce as hundreds of companies are trying to develop electric, urban air mobility vehicles, but only the first few to reach production will win," Siemens Digital Industries says in its 2022 analysis of this emerging way of decarbonizing mobility.
"eVTOL – or Electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing – is a burgeoning market, with companies such as Vertical Aerospace, EVE and Archer Aviation securing billion-dollar orders, and others such as Volocopter receiving their first approvals from regulatory agencies to move to production," Siemens' Director Aerospace & Defense Anthony Nicoli writes in the White Paper analysis.
Nicoli cites an August Markets and Markets report showing that the global eVTOL aircraft market stands at about $8.5 billion now, in 2022, and is projected to reach $30.8 billion by 2030, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 15.3 percent during this period.
INTEREST IN GREEN ENERGY INITIATIVES AND NOISE-FREE AIRCRAFT ARE KEY MARKET DRIVERS.
Director Aerospace & Defense, Siemens Digital Industries
The Markets and Markets report on the infant eVTOL industry shows electric aircraft development happening in: Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Russia, South Korea, UK and the United States.
This report lists major players in the eVTOL aircraft market as: Airbus SE, Bell Textron Inc., Embraer SA, EHang Holdings Ltd, Elbit Systems Ltd., Kitty Hawk, Lilium, Volocopter GmbH, Joby Aviation, Urban Aeronautics Ltd., Pipistrel, Moog Inc., The Boeing Co., Karem Aircraft Inc., Lift Aircraft, Aurora Flight Sciences, Workhorse, Elroy Air, Textron Inc., SkyDrive Inc., Neva Aerospace, Opener Inc., Workhorse Group, Uber Technologies Inc, Terrafugia, Archer Aviation Inc, Jaunt Air Mobility LLC, Overair Inc and Samad Aerospace.
But long as that list is, it leaves out the many companies that are not yet "major" players but are developing fast. One of them is Eviation Aircraft, an Israeli startup with an assembly plant just north of Seattle, Washington.
Early on the morning of September 27, Eviation Aircraft successfully completed the fledgling flight of its new zero-emission Alice aircraft. Alice lifted off from Grant County International Airport in the town of Moses Lake, Washington, and flew for eight minutes at an altitude of 3,500 feet (one kilometer).
Eviation Alice is targeted to commuter and cargo markets with flights ranging from 150 to 250 miles. The plane produces no carbon emissions, reduces noise, and costs a fraction of what it costs to operate light jets or high-end turboprops.
Alice’s test flight yielded data for the engineers to use as they optimize the new aircraft for commercial production. The orders are rolling in.
US-based regional airlines Cape Air and Global Crossing Airlines have placed orders for 75 and 50 Alice aircraft, respectively,
"The first flight of Alice represents a transformational milestone for the aviation industry," said Cape Air Founder and Board Chairman Dan Wolf. "We currently fly more than 400 regional flights per day, connecting more than 30 cities across the United States and Caribbean. Alice can easily cover 80 percent of our flight operations, bringing sustainable, emission-free travel to the communities we serve."
The German courier, package delivery and express mail company DHL Express is Eviation's first cargo customer, ordering 12 Alice eCargo planes. With them, DHL aims to establish the first electric express network, leading to a new era of zero-emissions air freight.
"The first flight of Alice confirms our belief that the era of sustainable aviation is here. With our order of 12 Alice e-cargo planes, we are investing towards our overall goal of zero-emissions logistics. This historic flight marks a significant milestone on our journey to ultimately achieving net-zero emissions by 2050." -- Geoff Kehr, Senior Vice President, Global Air Fleet Management, DHL Express.
A U.S. Military-Private Partnership
The U.S. Air Force is developing flying cars in partnership with a private company, the Kitty Hawk Corporation. Based in Palo Alto, California, the Kitty Hawk Corporation is named for the North Carolina town where, in 1903, Orville Wright completed the world's first powered flight of a heavier-than-air plane.
Backed by Google co-founder Larry Page, the Kitty Hawk Corporation was founded in 2010 by American entrepreneur, educator, and computer scientist Sebastian Thrun.
Today, Kitty Hawk is developing an unmanned eVTOL aircraft, the Heaviside. Named for the English engineer, physicist, and mathematician Oliver Heaviside, a former Google executive, it's part of a line of over 20 eVTOL prototypes.
In July 2021, the U.S. Air Force granted Kitty Hawk airworthiness approval, enabling the company to take advantage of additional testing opportunities through a partnership with the Air Force.
eVTOLs Growing Faster Year-on-Year
The Kitty Hawk airworthiness approval was over a year ago, and this year electric aircraft development is zooming ahead even more quickly.
Just two weeks ago, on September 15, Air Canada announced a purchase agreement for 30 ES-30 electric-hybrid aircraft now under development by Heart Aerospace of Sweden.
The regional aircraft, expected to enter service in 2028, will generate zero emissions flying on battery power and yield operational savings and benefits. ES-30s will take over regional routes now served by conventional turbo-prop aircraft.
Under the agreement, Air Canada also has acquired a US$5 million equity stake in Heart Aerospace.
"Air Canada has taken a leadership position in the industry to address climate change," Michael Rousseau, Air Canada president and CEO, said. "The introduction into our fleet of the ES-30 electric regional aircraft from Heart Aerospace will be a step forward to our goal of net zero emissions by 2050."
ALREADY, AIR CANADA IS SUPPORTING THE DEVELOPMENT OF NEW TECHNOLOGIES SUCH AS SUSTAINABLE AVIATION FUELS AND CARBON CAPTURE, TO ADDRESS CLIMATE CHANGE.
Air Canada President and CEO
"Air Canada is a strategically important partner for Heart Aerospace," said Anders Forslund, the company's founder and CEO. "The company has one of the world's largest networks operated by regional turboprops, and it is also a progressive, future leaning company especially in the green transmission. With the ES-30 we can start cutting emissions from air travel well before the end of this decade," Forslund said.
The ES-30 can carry 30 passengers seated three across, with a galley and lavatory. The aircraft will be powered by lithium-ion batteries; it will be quieter and have a smaller environmental footprint than conventional turbo-prop aircraft. It will be equipped with reserve-hybrid generators that can use sustainable aviation fuel.
Fully loaded, the ES-30 is expected to have an all-electric, zero-emission range of 200 kilometers extendable up to 800 km if the load is restricted to 25 passengers. Charging time for the aircraft - just 30-to-50 minutes.
Next-generation eVTOL aircraft technologies that companies are incorporating into their planes include: the Internet of Things, ultra edge hydrogen and battery cells, onboard sensors and collision prevention systems, artificial intelligence, and 5G communication.
For instance, in April 2022, the Korean automaker Hyundai explored hydrogen fuel cell technology for eVTOL aircraft. The company expects hydrogen fuel cell technology to have a long enough range to complete intercity trips.
In July, Rolls-Royce and Hyundai announced that the two companies will collaborate on bringing electric propulsion and hydrogen fuel cell technology to the advanced air mobility market, leveraging Rolls-Royce’s aviation and certification capabilities and Hyundai’s hydrogen fuel cell technologies.
They plan to deliver a joint fuel-cell electric aircraft demonstration prototype by 2025.
Hyundai Advanced Air Mobility Division President Jaiwon Shin said, "Hyundai has successfully delivered hydrogen fuel cell systems to the global automotive market and is now exploring the feasibility of aerospace integration to support the global aviation industry’s goal to fly net zero carbon by 2050."
Electric Aircraft Make Friends Across the World
China's XPENG AEROHT is the largest flying car company in Asia. It is an affiliate of Chinese electric vehicle manufacturer XPENG, which aims to produce the "safest intelligent flying car for individual users," the company said in a statement. Guangzhou Xiaopeng Motors Technology Co Ltd, doing business as XPeng Motors, commonly known as XPeng, is based in the city of Guangzhou, Guangdong province, with offices in Mountain View, California.
XPENG Chairman He Xiaopeng said, "The X2 is a two-seater eVTOL flying car. It is equipped with an intelligent flight control system and autonomous flight capability. The X2 is the latest generation of flying cars developed independently by XPENG AEROHT."
Sweden's Skellefteå Airport hopes that XPENG AEROHT can test XPENG X2 in their airport in the near future. "Initiatives like these are needed. The innovative spirit in which XPENG developed the X2 goes hand in hand with our idea of the future. If all goes well, we hope that Skellefteå Airport will be a gateway for flying electric cars. Not only in Sweden, but in the whole world.” says Henrik Littorin, Project director ELIS program at Skellefteå airport.
"But," said Chairman He, a more exciting product is the sixth generation flying car, which can travel on a road and fly in the sky. It can easily switch to drive and flight modes. It will go into mass production and deliver to customers in 2024.”
Elvis Chang, Nordic Director, XPENG, said, "Innovation and development in mobility are progressing rapidly. 10 years ago, it was almost unthinkable to drive an electric car. Today, it may seem impossible to fly with your car. If no one builds the future, it is still difficult to imagine."