California startup converts Cessna plane to electric | The Driven
One of the Cessna Grand Caravans already in operation with Mokulele airlines. Source: Mokulele
One of the Cessna Grand Caravans already in operation with Mokulele airlines. Source: Mokulele

Los Angeles-based startup Ampaire is retrofitting a Cessna aircraft with an electric powertrain with a view to offering it for commercial flight by 2021.

Testing for the retrofitted electric Cessna will begin later this year, after which Ampaire is planning to partner with Hawaiian Mokulele Airlines for testing on its short range flight routes.

Co-founder and CEO Kevin Noertker says that the introduction of small electric-powered airplanes will pave the way for electric flight in larger, long haul aircraft – and the sooner, the better.

“We are at the early stages of developing and implementing these technologies, and the faster that we can get them accepted in these smaller aircraft, the faster we’ll start to see them being acceptable and trusted for the larger ones,” co-founder and CEO Kevin Noertker told Fast Company..

The approach of using an existing approved aircraft, Noertker says, means Ampaire will be able to get electric planes approved for flight much sooner than those developing electric planes from scratch.

“That’s because you’re using a plane that already has the approvals from the regulatory agencies, and you’re just modifying those existing approvals,” he says.

By modifying one of the Cessna’s two propellers so that it runs on electric power, Ampaire will be able to mitigate risk during testing, with the second propeller will still run on fuel if required.

“Ultimately, any new technology like this will have to be proven on this scale of aircraft before it can be flown in the larger ones. And so we just have to move urgently. There’s really no time to waste.

“I think the deepest level of pressure that we feel as an industry is just trying to make the immediate impact as quickly as possible–but really, that opens the door to a much broader impact that we want to enable thereafter,” he says.

Scaling up notwithstanding, the potential for a short and medium haul solution such as Ampaire’s has great implications for those needing affordable regional flight options.

“What we’ve seen in the airline industry is that the number of airports that are served by commercial aircraft have been significantly decreased over the last few decades,” Noertke says.

“That’s because it’s just not economical to fly to most of these small regional airports.”

The same reasoning is also behind other electric planes startups, including Israeli-based Eviation which also plans to begin electric-powered flight by 2021 and Gold Coast-based magniX.

MagniX, a startup led by chief executive Roei Ganzarski who formerly worked for Boeing, is developing electric motors, also for retrofitting onto aircraft that could be used in 15-seater aircraft such as the Cessna 208 Caravans.

Eviation’s 9-seater electric aircraft Alice is set to be unveiled at the Paris Air Show later this year, after which the company will pursue certification through the FAA in the US.

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