Pipistrel this week provided more detail on its Miniliner program to develop electric aircraft to serve regional routes of 200 to 1,000 km (125 to 625 miles). Speaking at the EBACE Connect event, the Slovenian company’s chief technology officer, Tine Tomazic, said that the vehicles, described as “like mini-buses,” will have 40 percent lower direct operating costs than similar-sized twin-turboprop aircraft and will be 25 dB quieter.
An early conceptual drawing shows an airframe around the size of a large-cabin business jet, with a pair of forward-facing propellers on the upper surface of the wing and another rear-facing pair of propellers on winglets. The aircraft, which would accommodate a pilot and up to 19 passengers, also features a twin tail.
Tomazic explained that the Pipistrel engineering team is exploring three concepts around the same common airframe and propulsion system architecture. In addition to the standard PRVK concept, they are looking at the case for a PRVK-1 variant that would be optimized for low noise and operations from runways as short as 800 meters (2,592 feet) with steep approach capability. Another variant, the PRVK-LR, would offer the longest range and somewhat higher speed of almost 300 mph.
Pipistrel is evaluating several propulsion options but seems to favor a hydrogen-based powertrain with a 1MW fuel cell system. It is considering both a hybrid combination with a turbine and direct burn of the hydrogen with a goal of being able to fly four 350-km (218-mile) missions in succession with a 100-km or 45-minute diversion energy margin. It aims to get the first aircraft certified and in commercial service between 2028 and 2030.
According to Tomazic, the Miniliners will be able to operate into as many as 95 percent of European airports not currently served by commercial airlines, including some grass airfields. Pipistrel believes the aircraft has the potential to transform transportation options for smaller communities, while also driving down aviation’s carbon footprint. He said that the privately owned company has seen “a big shift” in interest in electric aircraft, and it is planning for a fivefold increase in the capacity of its production facilities.
Meanwhile, Pipistrel is preparing to join partners engaged in resuming work on the European Union-backed Modular Approach to Hybrid-Electric Propulsion Architecture (MAHEPA) program. This will see flight testing with Pipistrel’s new Panthera 152 four-seat hybrid-electric aircraft alongside a larger hydrogen-powered technology demonstrator.