Plane maker to test all-electric jet in 2019, sets sights on IPO

  • Venture capital-backed Eviation is looking to develop small electric aircraft.
  • The firm sees regional travel as underserved by aviation.
  • A test flight of its electric plane is scheduled for 2019.
Source: Eviation

An Israeli start-up has claimed an electric plane it is building will revolutionize commuter travel and it's getting ready to ask the public to help finish the project.

Eviation is developing a nine-passenger aircraft designed to fly up to 650 miles at around 240 knots (276 miles per hour). A commercial jet would cruise around 500 miles per hour. The electric plane is designed for the sort of distances usually conducted by train.

The company's chief executive, Omer Bar-Yohay, told CNBC Thursday that there is a global need for short regional flights that current commercial aviation can't fill.

"If you want to travel 100 or 200 miles and there is a high-speed rail connection then you are lucky. If not you are sitting in the car and stuck in traffic as general aviation offers no solution," he said.

The company boss said if Eviation can build a cheap and safe plane then he expected existing operators would buy it in order to seize on the "underserved" regional market.

A rendered image of the Eviation Alice. An electric aircraft designed to take 9 passengers up to 650 miles at 240 knots.
Source: Eviation
A rendered image of the Eviation Alice. An electric aircraft designed to take 9 passengers up to 650 miles at 240 knots.

Bar-Yohay said his full-scale prototype aircraft, named "Alice Commuter", should be ready for a test flight in early 2019. He said the next step would be ramping up to commercial production and explained that Eviation was founded inside a shell company in the U.S. in order to draw on public cash.

"The reason we did it this way is because we understood that we will have a great prototype and a really good story, way before we have a product," he said.

"And the kind of millions that is needed to build this is significant so we are looking at the public equity markets as a sort of crowdfunding on steroids."

Bar-Yohay said the firm had not yet asked the public for investor cash but that day was "coming soon". This would be done through an initial public offering (IPO).

Airbus has also shown its hand in attempting to develop electric flight technology with its Efan project. Eviation's CEO predicted that the European aerospace giant would likely display a "very interesting hybrid" at next year's Paris Airshow and welcomed the competition.

"Efan has pushed at the door of what can be certified and that has allowed the groundwork to be done for our aircraft to be built. We will not need waivers or changes for our own certification," he said.

Bar-Yohay also pointed to lightweight materials developed for the Boeing 787 and Airbus 350 that were helping his own project get off the drawing board and into the air.

South Korea's Kokam was signed up as a battery supplier in February. Eviation has said the battery, distributed through the plane, will account for as much as 60 percent of the maximum takeoff weight.

"If you take state or art lightweight material and best batteries and accept that you are traveling slower, lower and for shorter distances, you can do it," said Bar-Yohay .

The Eviation CEO said obvious markets for short regional air travel existed in the United States and the United Kingdom where a high number of small airfields were already in place.