All-electric commercial passenger planes could take off in as little as four years: Gold Coast tech firm
Gold Coast tech company magniX believes commercial electric planes will take off. (Supplied: magniX)
Would you fly on an all-electric plane powered by batteries?
Gold Coast aviation technology company magniX believes the first commercial flight, on smaller regional routes, could be just four years away.
Chief executive officer Roei Ganzarski said that electric cars were now a common sight on Australia’s roads and he believed his company was at the forefront of the next transport revolution — electric planes.
“We are going to be the Tesla of aviation,” he said.
There are already electric planes flying, but they are small and used for personal flights or pilot training.
Mr Ganzarski, who is based at the company’s US office in Seattle, has been visiting magniX’s Arundel facility on the Gold Coast where it recently tested its all-electric motor.
“We’ve been able to develop electric propulsion that will enable an aircraft to fly nine to 15 passengers between 100 to 1,000 miles in range,” he said.
“With today’s battery technology, which is the limiting factor, you’ll be able to [use the technology to] take an existing aircraft that takes nine passengers — for example a Cessna Caravan, many of which are used here in Australia — to transfer people and goods.”
Three weeks ago the company reached a milestone by testing an electric motor fitted into the fuselage of a Cessna Caravan, with propellers attached.
Mr Ganzarski said the testing was carried out inside a purpose-built cage at the Arundel facility.
“The next milestone is going to be that in the fall of 2019 we are going to have our first test flying of an aircraft using our motors,” he said.
There are other companies around the world developing small electric motors, but Mr Ganzarski said his engineers had developed a larger motor, with its own in-built cooling system, which is required for aircraft that travel at high altitude where the air is thinner.
“Without adding a lot of weight or complexity, we’ve been able to have an integrated liquid cooling system in the motor that allows us to keep the temperature very low and the efficiencies of the motor very high,” he said.
Mr Ganzarski said magniX’s plan was to develop an all-electric motor that will be ready to install in a commercial plane in 2022.
But the chief executive said all-electric long-haul flights were at least 20 to 30 years away.
He said the limitations of battery technology and weight constraints made it more economical for commercial airlines to use petrol-powered planes.
“Although it [petrol] does use fossil fuels and creates emissions, overall for air transport it is efficient and very safe,” Mr Ganzarski.
He said that travel between capital cities like Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane were well-serviced by large aircraft, but there was a market for smaller commercial planes servicing regional cities.
“What we’re going to do is fill that gap with an all-electric aircraft,” he said.
“Because of noise, pollution and logistics you can operate these aircraft at 80 per cent lower operating costs per hour.”
Professor Sidney Dekker, the director of Griffith University’s Safety Science Innovation Lab, said there were question marks over the safety and reliability of electric planes.
“There are a few challenges that need to be overcome obviously,” he said.
“One is the safety of batteries. We’re learning more and more about the chemistry of them and some of the failure faults and how to prevent those.
magniX chief executive Roei Ganzarski says the smaller commercial planes will fill a gap in the regional market. (ABC Gold Coast: Tom Forbes)
“Another one of these is the duration of their output and then the weight of the batteries themselves.”
Mr Ganzarski said safety would not be compromised in a commercial plane powered by an all-electric propulsion system.
“By the time they get on an aircraft, they will have had to have passed the same stringent requirements that the regulatory authority puts on any aircraft,” he said.
“Most of the flying public doesn’t know what propels the motors, it doesn’t know who flies in the front, they just know that they’re going with a reputable airline that has passed regulatory certification.”
Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) corporate communications manager Peter Gibson said the safety watchdog did not want to put any unnecessary regulatory hurdles in the way of the Gold Coast company.
“There are a number of approvals that would be needed to make sure that all of the appropriate safety standards are met, that the aircraft would be flying safely once this engine is fitted,” he said.
CASA has an ‘experimental category’ that allows aviation designers to develop and test their products before they seek final approvals.
“Putting it [an electric motor] into a regular aircraft, whether they are private or commercial, of course requires a whole bunch of safety approvals and standards to be met,” Mr Gibson said.
“Anyone who is committed to it, understands the process, and certainly can achieve it.”
Price drives airfare sales
Mr Ganzarski said a survey conducted with commercial passengers in the US found that most flying decisions were based on price.
“If the price is right, they fly,” he said.
“When you can fly in an all-electric airplane with ticket prices as low as 80 per cent lower than what they are today, and the public knows that it has passed all certification and government scrutiny, why wouldn’t they want to fly on it?”