It’s a match seemingly made in heaven, or at the very least, the wide blue yonder: Australian-based electric flight propulsion tech innovator magniX has been selected by fellow flight innovator Eviation to provide propulsion units for its 9-seater electric plane – to be known as Alice.
The deal, inked in recent weeks by the two companies, will see magniX’s 375 horsepower magni250 installed in the groundbreaking zero emissions aircraft, a development that could fundamentally change the way we travel regionally and help address the rapid growth in carbon emissions in the aviation industry.
For both Eviation and magniX, the focus is on medium-haul routes. The Alice aircraft, which will begin testing later this year, will be able to handle distances of up to 1,000km on a single charge – which the two companies say is the “sweet spot” in aviation.
“What we are doing is focused on electric propulsion for commercial aviation and our goal is to revolutionise aviation to go all-electric for the sole purpose of connecting community better,” magniX CEO Roei Ganzarski tells The Driven in an interview.
“If you look at places around the world like the US, Australia and Europe, there are a multitude of communities that … have airports around them but no-one goes there because there’s not enough people to fill a large aircraft or the tickets are so expensive it’s not worth it.”
“If you want to fly from Sydney to out west, it becomes very expensive,” Ganzarski says.
This is where magniX comes in – and they are doing it in a two-pronged approach, one being the conversion of existing combustion aircraft such as with Canada’s Harbour Air which will see aircraft such as the Havilland DHC-2 Beaver converted to electric propulsion.
However, converting aircraft has a limit, due to the pre-designed spaces within and architecture of the combustion aircraft.
“There’s not a lot of room or structure for batteries and so you are limited to how much batteries you can put there and so your range is limited,” Ganzarski says. The maximum range achievable by an aircraft like the Beaver is 150-160km, plus an extra half an hour of emergency flight.
The case, however is very different for newly designed electric aircraft such as that of Eviation.
“When working with manufacturers of brand new aircraft that are designed to be all electric, there’s quite a few significant advantages,” Ganzarski says.
He notes that aircraft are traditionally designed around the heavy engine and propulsion unit, but this is not the case for electric aircraft, which benefit from a smaller, lighter motor that allows for two significant differences.
Firstly, Ganzarski says, “you’re able to be things that provide for a significant increases in efficiency of an aircraft that you can do because of the small form factor and the low weight of the electric propulsion system.
“For example, if you look at Eviation Alice aircraft, it has wing tip motors and a tail motor that pushes the aircraft versus the traditional large engine that either fits on the wing inside the body or on the nose.”
“The second advantage is you’re able to design the aircraft to be a flying battery.”
This allows a newly designed electric aircraft to carry about 3 times the batteries, thus achieving a much longer range.
At the same time, operating costs reduced by 60-80% thanks to the simpler electric motors, and electricity costs compared to aviation fuel, should make medium-haul flight much, much cheaper.
It means new flight routes could be created between regional areas, costing as little as an inter-town bus, and radically changing the lives of regional residents whose daily lives often involve long-distance drives.
Eviation CEO Omer Bar-Yohay said in a note by email that with testing of the magniX propulsion system now underway, production of Alice fleets for the US will start by the end of this year.
“We will begin manufacturing battery-powered fleets this year for our U.S. regional carrier customers, with a value proposition that reduces their operating costs by up to 70 percent,” he said.
“In 2017, Americans spent $1 trillion traveling distances between 50 and 650 miles. Our goal is to undercut the cost of commuting by making middle mile trips cheaper, faster and cleaner.”
“Together with magniX we’re providing an economically and environmentally sustainable mobility solution that will forever change the face of aviation, and consumer travel,” said Bar-Yohay.
For Australia, with its wide open spaces and far flung regional centres, the proposition makes sense too.
And, it must not be forgotten that magniX has its roots in the Gold Coast – the motor for magniX’s propulsion units are designed and tested in Arundel.
Eviation is planning to debut Alice this June at the Paris Air Show, and with applications already underway with the USA’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), it will also be seeking approval for flight within Australia.
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She specialises in writing about new technology and has been writing about electric vehicles for two years. She has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum.