E-planes soaring soon

NEW YORK (AFP) — Recent test flights suggest the era of electric airplanes is coming closer, but aviation experts caution that achieving commercial use hinges on regulatory approval which has an unknowable timeframe.

Eviation Aircraft successfully completed a test flight in Washington state last week, showcasing a plane the company plans to begin delivering to airlines in 2027.

That came on the heels of an Icelandair flight in August which carried Iceland’s president and prime minister among its passengers.

Besides the benefit of eliminating carbon dioxide emissions, electric airplane travel potentially means less noise than conventional plane transport, as well as eliminating the need for jet fuel, a major expense for commercial airlines.

Next era

Gregory Davis, chief executive of Eviation, called last week’s test flight the start of “the next era of aviation,” and said it offered a glimpse of what “affordable, clean and sustainable aviation looks and sounds like.”

But industry experts speak of a hazy timeframe before that future becomes reality, in part because of murkiness over how quickly US air safety authorities will move to greenlight new technology from a
seven-year-old company with no operating history.

Eviation is “stepping into some unknown areas as far as how you certify and support electric aircraft,” said Glenn McDonald, a principal at AeroDynamic Advisory, a consultancy.

While the 2027 timeframe for the Eviation plane “could be realistic,” McDonald noted that the Federal Aviation Administration has taken a more painstaking approach to certifications since the Boeing 737 MAX crashes in 2018 and 2019.

The two-seat Velis Electro, certified by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency in 2020, is the only electric plane currently cleared for service.

Michel Merluzeau, director of aerospace and defense analysis at AIR consultancy, said the end of the decade was probably a more realistic timeframe than 2027 for the US market.

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