Cape Air Signs Deal For 75 Electric Alice Commuter Aircraft

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Massachusetts-based commuter airline Cape Air has signed a letter of intent (LOI) with Eviation for the purchase of 75 all-electric Alice aircraft. The terms of the agreement have not been made public. As previously reported by AVweb, Eviation announced in June 2019 that Cape Air would be its first commercial customer for the aircraft, which is still in development.

“Truly sustainable aviation not only reduces the impact of air travel on the environment but also makes business sense,” said Jessica Pruss, Eviation vice president of sales. “We are proud to support Cape Air, a recognized leader in regional air travel, to chart a new path in delivering innovative solutions that benefit airline operators, passengers, communities and society.”

Cape Air currently flies more than 400 flights a day to locations in the Northeast, Midwest, Montana and the Caribbean. According to Eviation, the Alice will have a top cruise speed of 250 knots, maximum payload of 2,500 pounds and single-charge range of 440 NM. The aircraft will seat nine passengers and two crew members and is powered by the magniX magni650 electric propulsion unit. Eviation noted last February amidst a leadership change that it was expecting to fly the Alice for the first time “in the upcoming weeks.”

Kate O’Connor works as AVweb's Editor-in-Chief. She is a private pilot, certificated aircraft dispatcher, and graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

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31 COMMENTS

  1. “’Truly sustainable aviation not only reduces the impact of air travel on the environment but also makes business sense,’ said Eviation vice president of sales Jessica Pruss.”

    Ahem… it only makes business sense if it makes a profit. And not even Rutan’s ‘futuristic’ Starship made business sense.

    I question the environmental impact claim too. And in-cabin fires have a HUGE impact on air travel. (No pun intended.) See https://web.archive.org/web/20200128175023/https://www.avweb.com/aviation-news/eviation-electric-aircraft-prototype-damaged-in-testing-fire/

    I look forward to a story a year or two (or three or five) from now to see how well this story aged.

    • Emission free is not equal to no (displaced) emissions.

      Plus what about the unintended consequences of electrifying all these unicorn farts that will charge these batteries? What effect will that have on the environment?

  2. That “single-charge range of 440 miles” doesn’t mention IFR reserves. Perhaps they’re included.
    But when clag occurs in the northeast, 440 miles often won’t buy you a legal alternate.

    In any event, this paper airplane looks like a pressurized alternative to Cape Air’s new P-2012s, although it will lack their fast-turn capabilities. How long will that 440 nm charging interval be?

    Perhaps we’ll get to see whether green is the color of money, or just the hue of virtue-signaling.

    • The Eviation web site says 440 nm is “target range, zero wind, no payload, IFR reserves.” So what’s the real-life range with the added induced drag of a 2500 lb payload, into a 40 knot headwind, with batteries that have been through 500 cycles, in the winter when you are heating the cabin and the leading edges?

      • Oh, come on. You can play that game with a 172 until you are afraid to leave the pattern.

        This is all a lot of fuss over a plane that will not be ready for sale this decade, if ever, even if it met every goal described in the story.

        • I agree that this plane is not going to be flying revenue flights any time soon. Remember, Cape Air only signed a letter of intent, so they can easily back out if the plane does not meet the advertised specs.

          It does raise an interesting question, though: Looking at airplane weight alone, how much would the range be reduced by flying at 14,500 pounds versus 12,000 pounds? For a given airspeed, induced drag increases by the square of the weight so there would be 39% more induced drag at the higher weight. However, I have no idea how this relates to total weight or how to translate it to range reduction. This is more a curiosity at this point, but I’m guessing it’s not insignificant or they wouldn’t have quoted range with no payload.

          One downside of electric airplanes is that they have to carry there entire “fuel” weight at all times. Fossil fuel powered planes get lighter as the flight progresses and can trade off fuel for payload.

          I continue to believe that, unless there is an order of magnitude improvement in battery technology – which doesn’t seem imminent for real-world applications, electric aviation will be very much a niche market.

          • Strangely, I sold new planes for a few years, and I cannot recall this ever really coming up with new models. Perhaps its because range is an especially challenging performance attribute for electrics, but honestly, everyone knew until you got the POH everything was bound to worsen (and even some POH’s were optimistic).

          • Your physics concerning lift and drag are not correct. If you increase the weight from 12,000 lbs to 14,500 you need to increase the lift by a factor of 1.2. Both lift and drag go as the square of speed so with the same angle of attack, you need to increase the speed by about 9% which will increase both lift and drag (both induced and parasitic) by 20%. If you increase the angle of attack you would get more lift with less of a speed increase. You would still have the same 20% increase in induced drag but would have a smaller increase in parasitic drag.

          • You are correct that increasing the speed reduces the induced drag, but that’s not the situation we’re talking about here. Note that, in my original reply, I said “for a given airspeed . . .”. Pilots don’t plan to fly faster for heavier loads, especially in the scheduled service that this plane is designed for. There are a bunch of factors in the induced drag equation, but the only one that would change is the weight. So, if you increase weight from 12,000 to 14,500 (20.8%) the induced drag goes up by 1.208^2 = 1.46. (Error in my original calculation where I said 39%) Since the airspeed remains constant, the parasitic drag essentially does not change.

  3. I really hope it works, but I too need to see more data. What happens in icing for example? Are the leading edges heated by the battery? If so, what does that do to the range? What about all the operating electrons? Have they all been accounted for in the single-charge?
    Maybe I am a bit ignorant of this airplane and it’s capabilities, but these questions never seem to be addressed directly.

  4. Electric commuter and other short haul aircraft will happen and it is not just because it is “greener”. The real reason is economics. The seat-mile cost of battery electric will probably be less than a quarter of using a Jet-A turbo prop. I currently drive a Chevy Bolt. It costs me about 2.5 cents a mile to drive (average of 4.3 miles per kWhr and 11 cents per kWhr — you do the math) and there is no scheduled maintenance. I have driven about 55,000 miles and the only maintenance other than tires is the replacement of the rear wiper blade. There is a reason why Ford has 200,000 reservations for their electric F-150 and why Chevy has 140,000 reservations already for the electric Silverado. I will never again buy a gas or diesel vehicle.

    As far as the range of the Eviation Alice is concerned, the range is with current Lithium Ion batteries which at best have about 250 to maybe 300 Whr/kg. I believe that we will have Lithium Sulfur batteries sometime in the 2025 time-frame with 750 to 900 Whr/kg. Not only will they be have more specific energy, they will be lower cost as the sulfur is basically a throw-away material. This will be a real game changer. As far as the takeoff and landing distances are concerned, the takeoff distance of the Alice at 2600 ft is about 500 ft longer than a similar sized King Air 260 but the landing distance is shorter. Anyway, it should be considerably easier than a F-104 to take off and land.

    • >>I believe that we will have Lithium Sulfur batteries sometime in the 2025 time-frame <<
      Kind of good news / bad news for them isn't it? Better battery, better airplane. But they get to start over on the certification of the battery system.

    • It’s interesting that the pilot community, which has seen so much improvement in aviation thanks to R&D, shows so little faith in it as far as EVs go. Both the DC-7 and Super Connie used versions of the Wright R-3350 turbo-compound radial engine, which was close to the pinnacle of the evolution of piston aircraft engines. Then the jet engine displaced it.

      Battery technology continues to evolve, as does the production and storage of hydrogen. No doubt the landscape will be littered with also-rans, but this has been true since the dawn of aviation; just this morning I watched a video of Bellanca’s innovative but rejected W-winged AirCruiser. Two companies developing batteries that leverage graphene are building factories for their commercialization. One battery is an improved L-Ion battery with a non-flammable electrolyte and graphene anode, the other uses graphene and aluminum, which should result in significantly lower weight. Will these work? Only time will tell, but I’m cheering on the development of electric aircraft because their potential simplicity and redundancy can reduce engine-out crashes and fatalities.

      • I think HFC has a chance in aviation but batteries are likely a dead end.

        The periodic table of the elements is a cruel mistress.

        My may contention is none of this is necessary.

        The US has immense oil reserves not yet tapped that could make us energy independent and strengthen our position at the top of the world’s socioeconomic and military food chain.

        • I quite agree that we could be energy independent again as we were before the last election. It’s possible that EVs would only have niche applications if it weren’t for the Climate Change hustle. It’s things like the North Perry Bonanza crash that I think electric airplanes can help minimize. A single-prop electric A/C with HFC, a small battery as a backup/buffer, and stacked hollow shaft electric motors would only have the prop shaft and prop as the single point of failure. Apparently, the Bonanza at North Perry had serious engine issues, so there’s no guarantee that a poorly maintained electric A/C wouldn’t also come to grief, but I believe the fault-tolerance of electric A/C can seriously reduce engine-out accidents in SE and LOC accidents in twins.

          From an engineering standpoint, electric A/C are attractive in their options to spread the power-train components around.

    • Li-S batteries have struggled with cycle lifetimes due to instability in the electrodes. My understanding is that good progress is being made on this problem in laboratory conditions. Even if successful, I think it might be a bit longer than 3 years before they are ready for real-world volume production. Still, it would be a significant step to making electric vehicles more practical. Not quite the order of magnitude improvement that I’ve always thought was need, but a good jump.

      Not that there is a significant difference in electric aviation versus electric ground vehicles. For airplanes, your fuel source has to generate the power required to hold the weight of the plane in the air (through induced drag), not just move it through the air. That includes the weight of the “fuel.” That requirement is not completely absent in a road vehicle (think tire rolling friction, etc), but it is much less of a factor.

  5. “We live in interesting times”… I never would have thought electric powered airplanes would be possible (other than the little model ones)… but they certainly are. I am not ‘green’ by any means, but like Samuel mentioned, I bought a Chevy Volt about a year and a half ago. LOVE the “plug in hybrid” idea. For most running around local, we don’t burn any gas, and are very much enjoying the 2.5 cents per mile as Samuel mentioned. When we go on a long trip, we are getting 40-50 mpg running the gas generator for the electric. Or whatever it is. I just know it works. Wish there were more and better plug in hybrids, but the manufacturers are mostly going all electric it seems. Anyway, interesting stuff…

  6. I live in Seattle and the ALICE has every possibility of doing one flight and then stumbling when production is supposed to ramp up. Or having the aerodynamics fail in the basic levels of stability, icing, tail surface area, Vne, etc. Anyone who saw that first wacky idea knows that they don’t have deep talent or people who say “wait a minute” in that area. People are confusing the idea of “wow, a new idea that will be our future” with the economics and management of being an aviation manufacturer. There is a long list of experimental projects that flew – but never made it past the one prototype and maybe one other example. So hold your horses, partner. Plus, if CapeAir goes belly up, so goes the ALICE. So, it’s a tremendous waste of money at this point. It was supposed to do a first flight before December 31 but it’s now May. Never announce a first flight in advance, folks. Cessna doesn’t. They do press releases after it’s flown.

    • Marc: You are absolutely correct. Eviation’s Alice may not be a success and may have problems that need corrections that cause them to run out of funding, etc. Although, I doubt that it will basic stability, tail surface area as I would assume that they have done enough basic aerodynamic simulation to have a handle on this. Their first “wacky” design might have had some efficiency advantages with the pusher props on the ends of the wings and the prop at the rear of the fuselage. However, I do not know why they had designed a plane with a tail wheel although maybe it saves a minor amount of weight. However, even if Eviation is not successful, we will have electric short haul aircraft as the economic drivers are just too strong to ignore. I expect that by the late 2020s, Boeing and Airbus (or maybe someone new) will be working on electric 737 sized aircraft for short haul flights (less than 1200 miles or so). Again, the difference in the cost of battery electric power compared to the cost of Jet-A is just too large to be ignored.

      I do expect that there will be a major “weeding out” in the eVTOL market as there seems to be too many players in the field for what I would assume the size of the market to be. Also, I do not see an easy path for electric inter-continental flight. Maybe lithium air has enough energy density but that solution has the interesting problem in that instead of losing weight as you fly as with buring a liquid fuel, you would actually gain weight during flight as the lithium becomes lithium oxide.

  7. Remember “Eclipse”? There was going to be one in every garage, at least a pilots garage, sounded way too good to be true back then. This is “E” clipse Two. We have a long time before this plane will actually do what they say.

    • Agreed. And even if the immutable laws of physics are met, there’s the HUGE unknown of the “Law” of FAA Certification. Especially for new technology.

      Again, when I was a young engineer at Cessna’s Radio Division, the then-CEO of Cessna (Russ Somebody?) joked to us at a meeting that, at the current speed of FAA Certification, it would be one guy’s job to spend his whole life to get one new aircraft thru the FAA’s process. I suppose it’s not this bad nowadays, since new aircraft do obtain certification within a lifetime. Still, a big unknown in this instance. (Hmm… I wonder if one electric engine can take all the energy from the batteries in an engine out situation – and for how long?)