Powering the Future

Electric-plane start-up gets closer to flight with Siemens motors

Key Points
  • German industrial giant Siemens will make the all-electric propulsion systems for the Eviation's Alice planes.
  • Eviation aims to bring electric flights to short-haul routes in its nine-passenger plane.
  • Several challenges remain before battery-powered flights take off, including battery weights.
Electric-plane start-up Eviation is teaming up with Siemens for a battery-powered aircraft.
Source: Eviation

An electric-plane start-up that's planning to fly a battery-powered passenger plane is getting a boost from German industrial conglomerate Siemens, which will make a motor for the aircraft, the companies said Wednesday.

Eviation has designed an all-electric plane it calls Alice, an aircraft that seats nine passengers. It is planning to debut it at the Paris Air Show in July and fly it later this year.

Aircraft manufacturers like Boeing and Airbus along with engine makers including Rolls-Royce have been researching or investing in battery-powered flight, but challenges remain before travelers take off in all-electric planes.

Finding a battery that packs enough power to fly a plane is one of them.

Eviation's Alice plane would have a maximum takeoff weight of 14,000 pounds. The battery weighs 7,000 pounds.

"It's a huge battery with some aircraft built around it, if you will," Eviation CEO Omer Bar-Yohay told CNBC.

The Alice planes seat nine passengers and a single charge will be able to carry it 650 miles, according to Eviation.

The start-up is part of a growing number of companies that want to provide an option beyond costly regional or private flights or lengthy car rides. Last October, for example, hybrid-electric plane company Zunum Aero, which is backed by Boeing and Boeing- and JetBlue Airways, picked an engine supplier — French company Safran — and is aiming to test its planes this year. European budget airline easyJet last year said it wants to fly nine-seat electric planes made by Wright Electric by 2027.

Eviation plans to ship its aircraft to buyers in 2022.

Other challenges remain before these aircraft get to market, including convincing regulators they're reliable.

"It's coming, but you won't be able to fly on an electric aircraft from London to Paris soon," said Robert Thomson, an aviation analyst at consulting firm Roland Berger.

Eviation faces competition to bring electric flight to the masses. There are more than 100 electric-aircraft projects worldwide, Thomson said.

"People seem to be spending real money on it," Thomson added.

Few of those projects are for large commercial airlines, and most are either electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft, known as eVTOL, or small planes.

Another challenge is ensuring that the planes are indeed greener since some electric grids are fed by fossil fuels like natural gas or coal, said Thomson.

Correction: Eviation is planning to debut its all-electric Alice plane at the Paris Air Show in July and fly it later this year. An earlier version misstated when it would fly.