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Electric-Powered Airplanes are Under Research and Development, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

Hydrogen and electric powered aircraft are under intense development at startup firms, backed by venture capitalists, major airlines and major aircraft manufacturers.  For example, startup ZeroAvia (www.zeroavia.com) is working on zero-emission hydrogen-electric powertrains that utilize fuel cells to turn hydrogen into electricity to power aircraft propellers.  Founded in 2018, ZeroAvia had, by late 2021, signed partnerships with a number of major airlines, including United Airlines, British Airways and Alaska Air Group.  In 2022, the firm announced an order from American Airlines for up to 100 of its hydro-electric engines for use in regional aircraft.  Alaska Airlines and ZeroAvia announced the retrofit of a Bombardier Q400 regional turboprop in 2023 which, with 76 seats, the largest zero-emission aircraft to date.
ZeroAvia’s 600-kilowatt powertrain can power small aircraft (between nine and 19 seats) up to 300 nautical miles and is scheduled for try for FAA certification as early as 2024.  A next-generation powertrain promises to run aircraft with 40 to 80 seats up to 1,000 nautical miles (with certification hoped for in 2026).
NASA has been developing a new all-electric plane called the X-57.  Powered by 14 electric motors, the aircraft, nicknamed “Maxwell,” would eliminate carbon emissions and reduce the energy required for a private plane to cruise at 175 miles per hour by a factor of five.  
In the same vein, Airbus Group, Rolls-Royce and Siemens AG plan to work together on converting a small plane into a “flying test bed” to prove the possibility of hybrid-electric engines.  Specifically, the companies plan to replace one of four traditional engines in a BAE 146 (a 100-seat regional aircraft) with a 2-megawatt electric engine.  The electric engine will feature a small jet engine mounted in the rear of the fuselage and connected to a generator.  Much like a hybrid, this small “range extender” can be switched on at any time during a flight to provide power or top up a battery.  In 2015, Airbus flew a two-seat lithium battery-powered airplane across the English Channel.
In September 2022, Eviation (www.eviation.com) completed a successful test flight of its Alice all-electric plane in Moses Lake, Washington.  The Alice is designed as a regional jet with a range of 250 nautical miles.  The test flight reached an altitude of 3,500 feet and lasted eight minutes.  In May 2023, Eviation announced that it has received an order for 30 of its all-electric Alice commuter aircraft from UK-based regional aircraft lessor, MONTE.  Additional orders include Korea-based Solyu’s deal for 25 aircraft and potentially 75 for Boston-based Cape Air Flight.  Eviation reported $5 billion in orders as of September 2023.  The company hopes to have Alice on the market by 2025.

SPOTLIGHT:  Hawaiian Airlines Investing in Electric Sea Gliders
In 2022, Hawaiian Airlines invested in battery-operated sea gliders developed by Regent (www.regentcraft.com), a startup based in Boston, Massachusetts.  Hawaiian Airlines has a role in the design of 100-seat low flying sea gliders that cruise an average of five to 30 feet above water for use in short island-to-island hops.  While in harbor, the gliders float like boats.  When airborne, the gliders rise on hydrofoils, affording speeds of up to 180 miles per hour with a 180-mile range.  Regent hopes that its aircraft can enter commercial service as early as 2028.


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