A prototype all-electric passenger plane took off for the first time yesterday in a test flight that marks a significant milestone for carbon pollution-free aviation. The nine-passenger commuter aircraft called Alice took off at 7:10AM yesterday from Washington state’s Grant County International Airport.
Alice is ahead of much of the pack when it comes to all-electric aircraft under development. It could become the “first all-new, all-electric commercial airplane” if the Federal Aviation Administration certifies it to carry passengers, The Seattle Times reports.
Alice is ahead of much of the pack
The US is trying to erase the planet-heating pollution it produces in the coming decades, including emissions from aviation. All-electric planes like Alice could potentially clean up pollution from shorter routes between small, regional airports.
Alice’s maker, Washington state-based company Eviation, is targeting commuter and cargo flights between 150 and 250 miles. That’s like flying from New York City to Boston or from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.
Yesterday’s test flight lasted just eight minutes, though, with the aircraft reaching an altitude of 3,500 feet. The purpose of the flight was to gather data to improve the design of the plane, which still has a long way to go before it can take off with passengers on board.
Alice will eventually come in three configurations: a nine-passenger commuter plane, a six-passenger luxury plane, and an e-cargo version. The limited size has to do with battery capacity. To make larger planes less polluting, the Biden administration is looking to sustainable aviation fuels that might be made with corn, algae, or even municipal waste.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks for the nascent electric aircraft industry is battery technology. Batteries can power a plane with renewable energy instead of petroleum-based fuels used today. But batteries are very heavy, which can weigh a plane down and reduce its efficiency. Plus, they’re not yet able to hold enough of a charge to power longer flights. And there are some safety concerns with lithium-ion batteries that can heat up uncontrollably when they fail and even catch fire.
Taking all of that into consideration, Eviation expects several more years for flight tests and certification, The Seattle Times reports. “We look like we’re going to have some fairly favorable battery technology available to us in five years,” Eviation CEO Greg Davis tells the Times. So Alice might not hit the skies commercially until 2027.