With a history of exploring hybrid-electric aircraft technology dating back to 2011, Austria-based Diamond Aircraft has announced it’s aiming for “an all-electric solution to the General Aviation market—the eDA40.” Derived from the existing piston-engine DA40 airframe, Diamond claims the eDA40 will have operating costs as much as 40 percent lower than existing piston aircraft on an endurance of about 90 minutes. Claimed charging time between flights will be 20 minutes, says Diamond. The batteries will be housed in a pod under the belly. Diamond is partnering with battery technology company Electric Power Systems on the eDA40 project. The design will use that company’s EPiC Ecosystem platform to power the eDA40.
The 90-minute flight endurance may be aspirational, however, as Diamond said in its announcement that it expects such endurance “as the battery technologies evolve.” First flight of the eDA40 is planned for the second quarter of 2022, with certification as a Part 23 aircraft targeted for 2023. Nathan Millecam, CEO of Electric Power Systems (EPS), said, “Training aircraft set the stage for demonstrating that electric aircraft can meet the demands of high-paced, high-volume operations at a reduced cost basis. Combining EPS’s battery and electric propulsion know-how with a globally recognized leader in advanced general aviation design and manufacturing, enables the eDA40 to be one of the most notable electric aircraft projects in the world.”
Liqun (Frank) Zhang, CEO of Diamond Aircraft Austria, said the eDA40 will be the first EASA/FAA Part 23 certified electric airplane with DC fast charging and specifically tailored to the flight training market.
Diamond joins two other entrants in the all-electric-aircraft space. In June 2020, Slovenia-based Pipistrel received certification from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) for its Velis Electro, a fully electric version of its two-seat Virus SW 121 and an evolutionary upgrade of the pioneering Alpha Electro trainer. Such as it exists, Pipistrel owns the electric trainer market with nearly 200 airframes in the field. However, due to regulatory hurdles, the model has found limited use as commercial trainer. Last August marked the first U.S flight of a Pipistrel Velis Electro, owned by the Florida Institute of Technology. Since 2018, four Pipistrel Alpha Electros have been operating in a technology demonstration project at Fresno’s Chandler Airport.
Meanwhile, at AirVenture 2021, Colorado-based Bye Aerospace updated its aggressive timeline to certify the battery-powered eFlyer 2 under Part 23. It’s assembling a conforming prototype and expects certification approval by the end of 2022. Bye claims the eFlyer 2 will have an endurance of three hours and a short recharging time if the batteries aren’t entirely depleted. Bye announced last month that KLM Flight Academy in the Netherlands completed purchase deposits for six eFlyer 2s and eight follow-on eFlyer 4s.
Diamond’s research in electric airplanes originally focused on hybrid drives in joint projects with other companies, including Boeing Phantom, Airbus, Siemens and EADs. It modified an HK36 motorglider as a test bed to industrialize airplanes that could reduce fuel consumption and emissions by up to 25 percent. Those projects were launched as early as 2011 when Christian Dries then owned Diamond. It’s not known if the Chinese interests who now own the company will revive those efforts to focus entirely on the battery-operated technology they just announced.