Meet Alice – she’s electrifying!

In May, Alice was flown from northern France, where she was assembled, to Paris. Like a human fashion model, she strutted her stuff on the runway there and attracted enormous interest.

By SHLOMO MAITAL
July 31, 2019 13:45
Meet Alice – she’s electrifying!

The Eviation Alice is an electric aircraft being developed in Israel. (photo credit: Courtesy)



At Technion, I often have the delightful task of meeting and greeting foreign visitors, many from China. They mostly seek one thing: the recipe for Israel’s and Technion’s secret sauce for creativity and innovation. One Technion graduate in every four eventually launches a start-up, I found in a web-based survey, and one female graduate in every seven.
The drive to launch start-ups exists widely among young Israelis. Visitors want to know why. I freely admit to them that after observing and teaching young Israelis for some five decades, I have theories. But truthfully, I don’t know for sure what that secret sauce is.
Recently, I spoke to the board chairman of a huge Chinese company that employs 250,000 workers. That’s far more than the total employment of all Israeli hi-tech. He was a brilliant business leader, eager to spur innovation in his business and keenly aware of the best-selling Start-up Nation core hypothesis: the key ingredient of Israeli creativity is chutzpah.
But, he asked me over lunch, what is it? What is chutzpah?
It’s kind of like an elephant, I replied. I can’t define elephant, or chutzpah. But I can show you an example. When you see an elephant, you recognize it. And when you see chutzpah in action, you grasp what it is at once.
So I showed him and his group a picture of Alice. If a civilian aircraft can be a beauty queen, Alice is it. Alice is literally electrifying, an improbable product of Israeli chutzpah. And there are a whole lot of other Alice-like chutzpah beauty queens in Israel.
Alice is the civilian airline industry’s first all-electric aircraft. It carries two pilots and up to nine passengers, and has a range of 1,000 km (about 650 miles) at a cruising speed of 440 km per hour (276 miles per hour). It was built by the Israeli start-up Eviation, and displayed at the recent Paris Air Show.
In May, Alice was flown from northern France, where she was assembled, to Paris. Like a human fashion model, she strutted her stuff on the runway there and attracted enormous interest.
Alice is made of ultralight composite materials and has three propellers – one on each wingtip and another on the rear fuselage. She uses lithium-ion batteries that are recharged from time to time between flights. Eventually those batteries will be upgraded to aluminum air ones that make electricity from mixing oxygen in the air with aluminum.
Eviation has signed its first deal to supply a US regional carrier Cape Air with a “double digit” number of Alices. And according to Eviation founder Omer Bar-Yohay, Alice operates at less than half the operating cost of conventional jetliners: about $200 an hour in direct operating costs, compared with some $600-$1,000 per hour for comparable planes. And it is far cleaner – jetliners burn jet fuel and spew carbon dioxide into the air. Alice wouldn’t dream of it.
Alice costs a lot less than conventional jetliners, only $4 million. Eviation believes Alice will pass certification by 2021 and the first planes will be supplied by 2022.
Cape Air/Nantucket Airlines currently operates a fleet of 92 planes, including Cessna 402s. It was founded by entrepreneur Dan Wolf in 1989, and he continues to pilot his company’s planes on weekends. Cape Air flies more than half a million passengers a year, for example from Boston to Cape Cod and back. The Cessna 402 first flew in 1966 and is aging; Alice will be a welcome replacement.
According to Eviation, about half of all US airline flights (flights, not passengers) fall within Alice’s 1,000-km. range.
Why is Alice a prime example of Israeli chutzpah? Because huge global companies like Airbus and Boeing, each with billions of dollars or euros in cash, are also trying to build battery-powered airplanes. Boeing has over 150,000 employees, $100 billion in annual revenue, and has been building planes since 1906. How in the world could an Israeli start-up, founded in 2015, take on Boeing – and beat it to market in only about four years?
I asked Eviation what motivated them to take on the industry giants.
Electric-powered flight is a vision that very large civilian aircraft companies have been working on for years, and they have very deep pockets. For example, Boeing and Airbus. How did you come to believe that an Israeli start-up could successfully compete with these giants – and persuade investors to invest $200 million?
As a team of experienced pilots in a nation that is known around the world as a leader in drone technology, we recognized the need and potential for new advances in air mobility. Our ability to conceive and execute on our vision of an electric future will help to usher in a new era of cheap, efficient and environmentally friendly air transit.
Do you intend for Eviation to remain independent and grow independently, or do you believe that you will be acquired? Do you have a strategy for sustained independent growth – unlike most Israeli start-ups?
Our goal is to continue on our current path, remaining focused on the goal of collaborating with our world-class partners to bring Alice to market by 2022.
Eviation has been clever in carefully selecting its suppliers, using off-the-shelf components. An Italian firm, Magnaghi, supplies landing gear, Siemens the electric engines, magniX the propulsion systems, and Honeywell the flight control systems. A South Korean firm supplies the electric batteries. By using existing technology and components, Eviation has drastically slashed development time.
With aircraft, as with cars, the future lies with self-piloted innovations. I asked the company about this.
By some reports, Eviation is also developing an autonomous (pilotless) aircraft. What are the prospects of such civilian aircraft in the future? Boeing, for instance, is developing a new plane with a single pilot, connected to a ground station capable of flying the plane remotely.
While we are not currently developing an autonomous plane, aviation has certainly benefited from the development and advances in drone technology. Ultimately, just as safety and cost are prime drivers for self-driving vehicles, autonomous air mobility promises safer and more affordable transportation solutions.
Three years ago, Greta Thunberg, a Swedish schoolgirl, skipped school on a Friday and with a homemade sign, demonstrated outside the Swedish Parliament. Her request: get Sweden back on track with the Paris Agreement to mitigate greenhouse gases and halt climate change.
One young schoolgirl – what could she possibly do? But every Friday, she showed up again at the Swedish Parliament.
Three years later, her single act of protest has snowballed into a massive strike-from-school movement among schoolchildren all over the world, on March 15.
Greta spoke at a climate change conference in Poland, at the European Parliament, and last year at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. To get to Davos she refused to fly – she insists on walking her talk – and instead took the train which, in Europe, is electrified.
Perhaps one day soon, Greta will fly to her speaking engagements in an electrified Alice. And perhaps one day soon, young people like her will exert market-based pressure on the aviation industry to speed up development of much larger battery-driven electric planes.
The world desperately needs a whole lot of Alices and her bigger counterparts. By 2020, global international aviation emissions will be around 70 percent higher than in 2005. Without electrifying planes like Alice, climate-aware people will face a bitter choice between not flying at all, like Greta, or flying on jets that worsen global warming.
The chutzpah of Alice and her Israeli founders give us all hope.

The writer heads the Zvi Griliches Research Data Center at the S. Neaman Institute, Technion and blogs at www.timnovate.wordpress.com


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