You can fly in electric aircraft in Australia now

Anastasia Dagaeva
January 15, 2018

The electric-powered Pipistrel Alpha Electro aircraft received the certificate of the type and can now fly passengers. The Electro.Aero startup and aircraft manufacturer Pipistrel call on to fly the ‘world's first certified electric aircraft’. This high-tech, two-seat aircraft operates from home base at Jandakot Airport, Perth, Australia. The 45-minute flight will cost $175, according to Electro.Aero website. You are welcome to book the flight online too. 

On January 2, 2018 the first serially-built Pipistrel Alpha Electro took flight in Australia. The aircraft received a certificate of airworthiness from Australian aviation authorities in October 2017. It then went on to complete another seven hours of flying over the following two days before being handed over to Electro.Aero, the aircraft's operator, reports the manufacturer.

This plane runs on two lithium-ion batteries, like those in Tesla’s, that can keep it in the air for an hour, with some 30 minutes of extra power in reserve. The batteries can supposedly give the plane 1,000 flying hours in total over their lifetimes. A supercharger based in Jandakot Airport can supply the Alpha Electro with a full charge within about one hour, according to Futurism. 

Electro.Aero and Pipistrel recognize the advantages electric planes have over conventional ones. Electric propulsion is a lot simpler than a petrol engine, Joshua Portlock, founder of Electro.Aero, told ABC. The scheduled maintenance required is much less, given that the electric motor has only one moving part — the propeller spinner. ‘With low operating costs and low ongoing maintenance costs, this aircraft makes financial sense for flying schools,’ Portlock said. 

This electric plane is also cheaper to fly compared to aircraft that use jet fuel. To run the Alpha Electro’s engine, for example, costs only about $2,5 an hour, compared to about $25 per hour of avgas for the Rotax-engined Alpha trainer. The plane efficiently uses electricity, needing only 60 kilowatts of power to take off and only 20 kilowatts to cruise, where it glides almost as silently as an electric car. 

Flying electric is considerably cleaner than using fossil fuels. That’s especially crucial in today’s fight against climate change, as the aviation industry is said to be among the largest contributors in carbon emissions, from more than 20,000 planes used all over the world. 

Electro.Aero also represents Bye Aerospace, which is developing the Sun Flyer for general aviation certification. ‘It’s a heavier aircraft than the Pipistrel and carries batteries to fly for more than three hours, with solar assistance on the wings,’ Portlock said. The Sun Flyer is expected to be on sale here by 2020, after certification testing and initial deliveries in North America.

Electro.Aero and Pipistrel aren’t the only companies working on electric planes. 

US-based startup Wright Electric is working on an all-electric aircraft that’s capable of ferrying 150 passengers for short flights  (about 500 kilometers) — like those from New York to Boston, London to Paris, or Seoul to Jeju. Recently Wright Electric and British budget airline easyJet have announced a partnership to build electric airplanes. 

Airbus, Rolls-Royce and Siemens joined forces to develop hybrid electric engine plane E-Fan X. The firms want to fly a demonstrator version of the aircraft by 2020, with a commercial introduction by 2025. All three companies are racing to develop electric engines for planes after pressure from the EU to cut aviation pollution. 

Rolls-Royce will be providing the electricity generator at the back of the E-Fan X plane. The turbine powering the generator will run on jet fuel and provide power for the electric engine. Any excess power from the generator will be stored in banks of batteries in the fore and aft holds with the stored energy to be used during take-off and landing. 

Three manufacturers are developing hybrid technology because fully electric commercial flights are out of reach currently. The weight of batteries coupled with the weight of equipment to cool electric engines are two limiting factors.