Ground tests for Eviation’s Alice electric aircraft are far advanced and the company expects to achieve a first flight before the end of this year. According to co-founder and CEO Omer Bar-Yohay, his team is awaiting a spell of good weather to kick-start the flight test campaign for the nine-passenger fixed-wing aircraft from its new headquarters at Arlington in Washington state.
Since unveiling an initial prototype of the Alice at the 2019 Paris Air Show, Eviation has largely kept the program under wraps over the past two years. In July, it unveiled a revised design as it works to achieve FAA type certification in time for service entry during 2024.
The newly published design drawings reveal significant changes from an earlier prototype, with a new T-tail configuration replacing a distinctive V-shaped tail. The Alice’s two MagniX Magni650 electric propulsion units have been relocated from the wingtips to a pylon mount at the rear of the fuselage.
Speaking with FutureFlight during the recent NBAA-BACE show, Bar-Yohay said that the new design is the result of a detailed development process, rather than some sort of eleventh-hour change in philosophy. “The development effort for Alice went through very significant iterations over the years,” he explained. “We’ve had over 160 different models, and of them six were built, so this is yet another change that brought us to the production configuration.”
Evidently, concerns over the complexity of the type certification process were a major factor driving the abandonment of the eye-catching wingtip propellers. “It’s just not a very common configuration to be able to take through the certification process in a fairly fast manner,” Bar-Yohay said. “But there was also the sentiment of clients and specifically the pilots of those clients preferring to get a more traditional airplane even at a small cost in range, so we found that [propellers mounted to the rear fuselage offered] a more robust, let’s say simpler and cleaner wing that allows us to transition to pilots more easily, and is going to serve us to the development of the fly-by-wire systems, the augmented stability, and getting all those advanced features the fly-by-wire allow.”
Eviation’s engineering team expects the new configuration to improve stability in flight. The relocated, larger propellers will deliver more power.
According to Bar-Yohay, the start-up has plenty of financial power behind the program, with strong backing from its Singapore-based majority shareholder Clermont Group, which also owns MagniX. It also has an announced launch customer in express delivery group DHL, which has placed a provisional order for a dozen Alices.
While several other new aircraft developers are only too eager to trumpet sales announcements, raising questions as to whether these represent substantive commercial transactions, Eviation is taking a more cautious approach. “We’re taking our time announcing those as they mature to actual purchase orders,” said Bar-Yohay. “We have a few commitments, but we don’t want to go public with them before they’re actual purchase orders when significant down payments change hands, and that’s really going to happen more around the first flight and the days that will follow.”
Eviation sees Alice earning its living in passenger-carrying services for operating sectors as short as just 50 miles and up to around 300 miles. Operators might include carriers trying to start new point-to-point routes, but also major airlines looking for a more cost-effective way to feed traffic through their large hub airports.
In the freight sector, Eviation sees the prolific growth in e-commerce opening up opportunities for new electric aircraft. “Traditionally the cargo market looks at used planes at a very low price point and honestly, parcels don’t need to go to the lavatory and they don’t care too much about their condition so the fact that we have a fabulous cabin doesn’t make any difference,” Bar-Yohay said. Eviation believes Alice will offer this sector an attractively-priced, new-build workhorse that will be an attractive alternative to having to settle for cast-offs from passenger operations.
Eviation also intends to offer a six-seat version of the Alice suited to private aviation operations, as well as other models for a variety of special mission applications. “I believe there are quite a few areas where this makes sense because of the sustainability aspect,” concluded Bar-Yohay. “But again the bread and butter of the way we look at this program is to make sure that this works for our operators from a financial perspective first and foremost, and if they’re using regional jets or turboprops today they would rather switch to an Alice and justify their investment within a few years.”
Apart from MagniX, the program's key suppliers include GKN, which is supplying aerostructures including the wing, and cockpit systems group BendixKing.