IFS World 2019: Cape Air CEO Talks Benefits, Challenges of Launching Future All Electric Flights

Cape Air CEO Dan Wolf discussed the benefits and challenges of becoming the launch customer of Eviation’s all-electric Alice aircraft at the 2019 IFS World Conference. Photo: Eviation

BOSTON, Mass. – While Cape Air CEO Dan Wolf is preparing to integrate the Tecnam P2012 Traveller into his flight operations, during a presentation at the 2019 IFS World Conference, the airline executive discussed the challenge they’re taking on to become the launch customer for the all-electric Eviation Alice aircraft.

Eviation first confirmed Cape Air as the Alice launch customer with a double-digit purchase option during a press conference at the 2019 Paris Air Show where a prototype of the aircraft was shown for the first time publicly. The Hyannis, Massachusetts-based Cape Air is one of the largest regional airlines in the U.S., flying to destinations in the northeast, Midwest and also several Caribbean islands including St. Croix and Nevis, West Indies among others.

Over the next decade, Cape Air will use a fleet of more than 100 P2012 Travellers to replace the in-service fleet of 88 total Cessna 402s that they currently operate. However, during that time, they will also be working on a path toward airworthiness certification to start operating the Alice.

Wolf said Cape Air is making the investment in the Alice not only to save on operating costs, but also with a goal of reducing their environmental impact, which has become a major aspect of their organization over the last decade. The CEO compared the performance and economics of the all-electric Alice to the existing Cessna and aircraft it is operating.

The all-electric Alice prototype from Eviation was revealed at the Paris Air Show. Photo: Eviation

“If you think about it inherently, a reciprocating engine is flying as hard as it can to fly apart at any given moment, it inherently is kind of a crazy contraption. But it does take the energy out of gasoline and convert it into thrust of power,” Wolf said. “An electric motor is just amazing. To give you an idea, the electric motors we’re talking about going forward have roughly a 20,000-hour life cycle, whereas the engine on our current aircraft has a 2,000-hour life.”

Eventually a fleet of Alice aircraft will join the new Tecnams, although when that will actually happen is still undetermined, Wolf said. Eviation CEO Omer Bar-Yohay recently told Avionics International that the Alice will enter a certification campaign later this year, with the goal of obtaining Part 23 commuter and on-demand operations type certification to be ready for passenger-carrying flights by 2021.

Eviation is using 900-kilowatt hour lithium ion battery pack to power Alice, which has a range of 650 miles and a cruising altitude of 10,000 feet. It also uses two wingtip-mounted pusher propellers and a tailcone propeller to fly. The aircraft will need to be powered or charged with the use of an electric port that will require just one hour and 10 minutes to recharge, according to Eviation. Wolf said Cape Air has a unique approach to charging the aircraft’s batteries as well.

“We signed a memorandum of understanding with what is going to be the largest wind turbine electric producer in the U.S. off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard,” Wolf said, referring to Vineyard Wind, which is being developed as the first offshore wind energy project in the U.S.

Wolf said that living on Cape Cod and witnessing climate change first hand has made the airline a lot more environmentally conscious. Their efforts to reduce their operations impact on the environment began long before signing on to become the launch customer of Alice as well. Cape Air’s corporate headquarters features a 258-kilowatt solar photovoltaic array along with lighting relay panels, occupancy sensors, photocells and override switches to provide zone control of lighting in the hangar, restrooms, storage rooms and offices.

“Our headquarters and our heavy maintenance base is a net producer of electricity, through all of the solar projects that we have built we now produce more electricity at our headquarters building than we use. The Hyannis Airport where we’re located itself has built solar along two of the runways they have there and is one of the biggest solar producers of electricity of any airport in the United States,” Wolf said.

Outside of the improvement in Cape Air’s environmental impact that the Alice will bring in the future, it will also tremendously improve their operating costs. According to Wolf, their initial projects estimate the direct operating costs will be 40 percent of the cost of operating their current fleet of aircraft.

That will also allow for an expansion to the destinations Cape Air currently serves.

Cape Air CEO Dan Wolf. Photo: Cape Air

“Communities that cannot afford the type of air service we provide, it will allow the economics to work, Cape Air will be able to serve communities with that electric airplane that we cannot serve today and we’re really excited,” Wolf said.

But the CEO admits gaining FAA certification on an all-electric airplane will be a challenge, and the company has not yet committed to an official timeline as to when Alice could start passenger-carrying operations either. Alice is one of more than 100 different electric-powered aircraft flying or being developed at the moment, according to research into electric powered airplane technology published by German consultancy firm Roland Berger last year. That number could increase to 200 by the end of 2019.

However, there are challenges to getting aircraft powered by batteries instead of gasoline certified, which is one of the primary reasons why Alice and other electric airframes being developed are much smaller than their traditional commercial counterparts. A report published by Electric Aircraft Working Group (EAWG) in June, notes that the challenge is not only related the certification of the battery technology itself, but instead the need for regulators to establish new standards for new and novel designs that establish the level of safety consistent with existing standards for the category of aircraft that it is being certified to.

On the technology side, the report cites the use of distributed batteries, motors, higher voltages aerodynamic considerations, and wiring among other challenges. Wolf said the path to certification and introduction of Alice into Cape Air’s flight operations will require increased engagement with the FAA.

“This isn’t going to happen unless we figure out how to have the conversation with those who certify and regulate so we can actually get these products to market,” Wolf said. “It is not the role of legislators to bring a product to market quickly so that Cape Air can make a profit. It is the role of legislators to understand whether the tech they’re looking at is going to delivery safe air transportation that is consistent with our transportation policy.”

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