Electric Aircraft: Enabled, Still Struggling For Market


While electric aircraft have gained press notice, they’ve lagged in market penetration, partly because buyers don’t fully understand the potential for electric aircraft. “I think it all comes down to people’s expectations. The most straightforward form of an electric airplane is one powered by batteries and batteries will always be a factor on the airplane, which is hindering endurance and performance,” says TineTomažic,a developmental engineer for the Slovenian Pipistrel Aircraft. Pipistrel is a leading developer of light, efficient aircraft and has two electric models in its line.Tomažicpresented at the Sustainable Aviation Symposium this week in Redwood City, California, and we spoke with him for this recorded podcast.

Tomažic told AVweb that Pipistrel is looking at the type of missions electric aircraft can perform and for now, training and self-launching gliding are the two most obvious options. But he says electric flight is enabled in most parts of the world and regulatory barriers are slowly eroding. “For the most part, anywhere you go, electric flight is enabled. One can register an airplane and use it for private purposes, as long as it’s non-commercial,” he says, adding that the common belief that electric aircraft are illegal is not true. “The FAA is a bit behind, but they have begun send out signals that they are more than willing to change that,”Tomažicsaid, with regard to approvals for using electric aircraft in U.S. for training.

One of Pipistrel’s higher-profile projects is the four-seat Panthera, first unveiled at Aero Friedrichshafen in 2012. At the time, Pipistrel was projecting a certified aircraft in about three years. But an engine switch from the Lycoming IO-390 to the 540-series engine has delayed that and so has the final march to CS23, the global version of the FAR 23 revision.Tomažicsaid once the final rules are aligned worldwide, the Panthera should appear certified in U.S. in about two and a half years.